Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody"
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Written by Miranda July
Stars: John C. Reilly, Miranda July, Mike White, and Chuy Chavez
4:04; USA

The film opens with John C. Reilly standing in an open walkway close to a street. He's holding a notebook and he polls three different people, "Are you the favorite person of anybody?" He doesn't stop there. He goes on, "Are you certain of this? How certain are you: Very certain, confident, you think so, not so sure, could be?"

Take a moment and think about the question. Ask yourself?

The film is an experiment in human psychology and characterization. It's an intense question. If you really think about it. And the setting. Something can be said for asking a stranger such a personal question on a side street. It doesn't lend its way to intimacy or privacy. In psychology one might say that Reilly's character lacks boundaries. Before we turn the heavy-handed finger on the three main characters, take a look at Reilly's character. He possesses a certain character pathology. He not only asks the initial question. He also asks the characters if they are sure of their answers? It appears as if he's judging their initial response. Who is he? He's really just someone out on a side street asking people a terribly personal question and trying to pawn off oranges that his wife has sent him to get rid of. A lot of details emerge from these people's lives in only four minutes. Additionally, when Mike White is certain that he's nobody's favorite person, Reilly's character seemingly feels bad for him. We see this when he offers him the oranges. He doesn't offer oranges to the July's character-- he doesn't feel bad for her. She's sure that she's somebody's favorite person.

Three different characters emerge. July's character appears confident, but introspective. She's optimistic of her fondness. White's character isn't contemplative at all, he knows that he's not anybody's favorite person. He's confident in that. And finally, Chavez's character is most people, someone who would see a guy like Reilly and do whatever it took to get around talking to him and as quickly as possible. We could guess that when he heard the question he didn't want to take the time to think about the reality of the question, but we don't know that.

The great thing about the writing here is that this one question reveals character depth in each of the actors. How might their reaction and answer to this one question translate into other aspects of these characters lives? All within such a short amount of time. July's writing is tight and concise. This is what writing in the short form is all about-- getting the most detail out of the shortest amount of space and time. Particularly for the short story writer. The same goes for the short filmmaker. When you break these stars down by their characterization it's easy to get past who they are and to dive into who they represent in the film.


haley schattner said...

It really is amazing how much of a story can be told through a question and people's responses. What I want to know is, who is John C. Reilly's character? Why is he asking these questions? We learn that he is married, is he his wife's favorite person? This short film is able to provide a story through one question, but raises several that are probably unnecessary to the plot of the film, but worthy in their own right.
Would a fifth character have been necessary to discuss the next option, "I don't know." All of the characters seem assured in their responses.

K. Tyler Christensen said...

Haley, that's a good question. Would a fifth character add a new dynamic? Maybe the fifth character would have been less cooperative, more combative. Maybe the fifth character would have called Reilly on his own flaw. I think you also raise another important point, is it salient to the plot to know more details about Reilly's character? Or does this suffice. More time would have created more backstory, but in the few details Reilly offers about his wife sending him there with the oranges, we can make inferences about the characters home life. Those inferences will be different for everyone who sees the film. But, that's also another powerful part of short film is the way that it generously puts the audience in a position of power and control over who the characters are when in short periods of time those things can't be sufficiently given attention.