Starring: Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Vera Farmiga, Illeana Douglas, Jessica Walter, Ron Liebman, Jared Harris, Mirabella Pisani
Written and directed by: Greg Pritikin
Rated: R (pretty much because of Fangora’s vocabulary)
Release: February, 2002 (U.S.)
Overall score: 7/10
Brody performance: 9/10
When I first started my quest to see every Adrien Brody film, I noticed the majority of his characters had — if you’ll forgive an overused phrase — swagger. A strut in the walk and a flirt in the talk (and expressions). I said to myself, “I’d really love to see him play a really naive, shy, anxious type of person.” Then I found Dummy, and my wish came true.
Adrien plays Steven, the main character in this film. And he does a phenomenal job. This is one of the most impressive performances of his career, in my opinion. Usually, you can see a bit of Adrien in every role; however, it’s pretty hard to spot him in this one. The end of the film is when he starts to creep in just a bit. He completely immersed himself here, in true method actor style. He performed all of the puppetry and ventriloquism live for Steven’s dummy. Steven gets better at it as Adrien got better at it… you can see the real progression of his skills. It’s really cool, for lack of a more eloquent word.
Above and beyond the ventriloquism, Adrien also nailed what it’s like to have Social Anxiety. Full disclosure: I have it myself, so I can very much relate to some of Steven’s struggles. Not being able to speak up, going along with what others want, because you don’t want to disappoint them… and so on.
There is a fantastic article here about social anxiety and how it is presented in the film Dummy (it’s also a movie review). I highly recommend it, because the author explains it far clearer than I ever could.
What I Liked
As previously mentioned, I really enjoyed Adrien’s performance in a broad sense. But there are also many little details in this movie that make it special. Subtle facial expressions and other physicality are used to great effect.
Steven’s parents (played by real-life married couple Ron Liebman and Jessica Walter) are marvelously quirky. His father, Lou, enjoys building model battleships while porn plays on the TV in the background. His mother, Fern, manages to make every food into a blintz and is always insisting that Steven needs to eat.
Steven’s sister, Heidi (a very good Illeana Douglas), is also a great character. She could probably carry a movie as a lead character herself. There’s so much backstory with her that could be explored. Fern clearly favors Steven over Heidi, and it really gets to her. For instance, Fern often makes cracks about Heidi’s broken engagement, even though that was her only sane option under the circumstances. And yet, anything Steven wants to do is automatically a brilliant idea.
Milla Jovovich is hilarious as Steven’s best friend Fangora/Fanny. She’s crass and foul-mouthed, she’s pushy… she’s pretty obnoxious… but she also loves Steven and his family and wants what’s best for him. Even if she’s a little out of touch with reality and the concept of consequences.
What I Didn’t Like
My main issue is with the character of Lorena (Vera Farmiga). She is what many would refer to as a “Mary Sue,” a character designed to be annoyingly perfect. Too innocent, too forgiving, too… much. She even speaks with an angelic tone of voice, like a host from a children’s program.
Another major gripe is the scene with Michael (Jared Harris) and Fangora (Jovovich) at the end of the movie.
MILD SPOILER AHEAD ABOUT THIS SCENE
Are we supposed to consider this a happy ending for those two characters? Michael is a dangerously unstable stalker, and we’re supposed to suddenly root for him to find love with Fangora, before he resolves any issues? Fangora is perhaps mentally ill herself, but I don’t see that as reason enough to force these characters together in the final moments of the film. Just no.
Speaking of Fangora: a little less profanity would’ve been nice. I realize it’s important to have Steven and Fanny’s personalities differ. It is realistic to have a character like her cuss a lot, but it seems excessive at times. Then again, if you’ve read my other reviews, you already know I have a low tolerance for coarse language in movies. It starts to take away from the escapism, to me.
One last thing… I. do. not. like. dummies. They creep me out. A lot. I just… can’t with the dummy. Steven gets a little ridiculous with what situations he brings the dummy/puppet along for. I realize it’s a tool he uses to work through his anxieties, but it also causes those around him (and the audience) discomfort.
In general, this is a really sweet film that I enjoy very much, aside from my gripes listed above. I highly recommend it for Adrien Brody fans, because it’s such a unique role for him. So unlike anything else he’s played. See it.
BONUS: Make sure you watch the end credits, because there’s a cute Adrien moment added in there.