The Great New Wonderful

on June 23, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
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"The Great New Wonderful" is a about the aftermath of 9/11, though the events of that day are only mentioned once and in an indirect though poignant manner. Here we have the quite remnants of the day seeped into the lives of a set of disparate characters that, while they have their obvious issues (work and money concerns, a troubled child and a recent loss) are in fact perched on the edge of various abysses.
The bits and pieces of the film are only loosely connected. A cake designer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) frets over a major deal and the doings of her rival (played in a cameo by Edie Falco of "The Sopranos"); Olympia Dukakis laments the choices of her life as a very old friend reappears; a yuppie couple with an overweight bully of a son they mostly fear finds their lives picked apart bit by bit; a pair of South Asian bodyguards for a visiting general find themselves floundering in their new homeland and the many ways of being American. Perhaps the anchor of the piece is the story of a workplace grief counselor played by the great character actor Tony Shalhoub. He's working with Sandie (Jim Gaffigan), a seemingly mild-mannered office employee in whom Dr. Trabulous sees a dark and angry vein waiting to be struck. This is the funniest segment of the film, and, ironically, the segment that most speaks to the events of 9/11. Another interesting note is that the director of "The Great New Wonderful" is Danny Leiner, whose previous films include "Dude, Where's My Car" and "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle."
The various characters in "The Great New Wonderful" and what they do are less relevant here than who they are and where they are in their lives following the events of 9/11. There are denials of state-of-mind across the arc of this movie. Not all of these denials are faced, even when they are exposed. This is a film that never really says what's it's about, and may in fact not be about much of anything other than the zeitgeist of the era. Which, if you think about it, is plenty. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom McCarthy, Judy Greer, Naseeruddin Shah, Sharat Saxena, Tony Shalhoub, Jim Gaffigan, Olympia Dukakis, Dick Latessa, Edie Falco and Stephen Colbert. Directed by Danny Leiner. Written by Sam Catlin. Produced by Matt Tauber, Danny Leiner and Leslie Urdang. A First Independent release. Drama. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 88 min
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