From The Graduate to Juno, America has seen its fair share of awkward coming-of-age love tales. Luckily many writers and directors have managed to keep this familiar territory fresh throughout the years, whether it be the dry, baffled humor of Judd Apatow’s films; the unflinching realism of The Myth of the American Sleepover; or 500 Days of Summer’s whimsical, if mushy, storytelling style.
Our title character is played by True Blood heartthrob Ryan Kwanten, who drops all things sexy and charming in his role as the twenty-something cubicle dweeb Griff, instead recalling Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People in his tense physical acting and sad, skittish eyes. We don’t really know the source of Griff’s troubles, other than his confusion and contempt for the “normal” world as represented by his cocky, popular co-worker Tony (Toby Schmitz), who feels just as much contempt for Griff’s own gloomy meekness.
Not so unlike Steve Carell’s character Andy in The 40 Year Old Virgin, who escapes his maladjustment by painting little models of heroes he can only aspire to relate to, nighttime finds Griff in his apartment, a sort of generic command center decked out with Mission Impossible-type surveillance computers, where he dons a well-tailored superhero’s costume and runs into the night, taking down small time crooks, grungy purse snatchers and the like.
The extent of Griff’s imagination, however, becomes less clear as the film goes on, beginning with his invention of the invisible suit, which we eventually learn is just a childlike delusion. The only exploits we can be sure of are decidedly unheroic: Griff’s petty acts of sabotage against Tony, and his use of stealth to run away from a treacherous situation, one involving his well-adjusted older brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) and Tim’s strange, spacey, but beautiful new girlfriend Melody (Maeve Dermody), who quickly develops a shy crush on Griff.
What makes our superhero most interesting is his failure as one. Once we learn of his day-to-day victimization at work, Griff’s growled catchphrase “Get out of my neighborhood!” starts to feel more like a weakened “Leave me alone!!!”
But our unfamiliarity with a hero like Griff the Invisible is matched by our familiarity with Griff the human being, in all his confusion, anger, insecurity and desire to escape.
Big brother Tim, who juices that role for all it’s worth, has been visiting Griff’s apartment on a regular basis in a well meaning if self-important attempt to guide Griff toward normalcy and away from a life of delusion. But as we witness Tim’s more disturbing delusions about his own desirability as a romantic partner in the face of Melody’s yearning for Griff, the imaginary life of a superhero, regressive as it is, somehow becomes the more sensible choice.
Meanwhile Melody, lost in her own world of parallel universes and cosmic theory, eventually becomes Griff’s nurturing, philosophizing sidekick, and after a series of tense and painful romantic interactions, together they take on the pretend evils of the world--if only to disavow the bleak reality of everyday life.
Unfortunately, this whole situation wears a little thin, even after a short runtime of 90 minutes.
As Melody throws in bits of random metaphysical questions and observations throughout the film, pure and wondrous as they are, she begins to speak and act as if she had just taken her very first bong rip, all breathless and glazy-eyed, until you find yourself wishing she would just get over the marvels of the universe and get a real life. It’s not a reaction I enjoy having, and it’s certainly not the one Ford had intended.
The classic fumbling, mumbling young romance as played out between Griff and Melody is endearing enough, and while shrouded in an interesting medley of genres and ideas, it still fails to stand out strongly among past incarnations, and we lose sympathy for the two misfits. With so many elements at play—the awkward romance, the not-entirely-ironic superhero plot, the cosmic profundity, the outcast social commentary—each segment seems underdeveloped and, by the end of the movie, leaves us a bit like Griff--confused and unsatisfied.
There are still charms to be had, namely that Griff is an easy character to root for and, sometimes, in his self-preserving twist on reality, to doubt.
Perhaps Griff the Invisible isn’t the coming-of-age movie superhero we’ve been waiting for, but in the wake of beer bongs and slipping bikini straps, it’s definitely fighting the good fight.
Playing at Kendall starting Friday the 25tb