Sticky fingers in Manhattan

The Pleasure of Being Robbed

on October 03, 2008 by John P. McCarthy

The Pleasure of Being Robbed has charms that are likely to escape the majority of viewers, though not due to any dimness or inadequacy on their part. This indie’s studied quirkiness is annoying for most of the running time until suddenly it’s not. Evasively banal, the story of a female petty thief in lower Manhattan morphs into a marginally intriguing character sketch at around the 55 (out of 71) minute mark, thereby signaling the emergence of self-assured young writer/director Josh Safdie, who makes merry along with a band of filmmakers known as the Red Bucket Collective. They shove their avant-garde credentials in your face but earn them while doing so. Surely, the last thing they would concern themselves with is the miniscule revenue their project will generate.

Looking like the abandoned love child of Hilary Swank and Parker Posey, Eleonore Hendricks plays a larcenous free spirit named Eleonore working mostly below Manhattan’s 14th Street. From the movie’s perspective, she’s blessed with kleptomania, aimlessness and ennui in equal measure. According to society’s standards, she’s a troubled soul, albeit one with natural grifter skills there’s no harm in admiring.

Right away, we see Eleonore relieve a woman on the street of her purse with a disarming charade that entails guessing her victim’s given name and posing as an old friend. Outside a bodega, she gobbles grapes without paying for (or washing) them, then she randomly enters herself in a table-tennis tournament. Later at a bar, Eleonore rummages through another woman’s purse and finds a digital camera and a set of car keys. While searching for the vehicle matching the keys, she runs into a gangly, bearded acquaintance (played by Safdie) and they locate the corresponding Volvo. Arguably more off-the-wall than Eleonore, he teaches her how to drive and they sputter around the city before taking a long, impromptu road trip to his house. Right after that, the movie clicked for me—in the final scenes, Eleonore visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art and makes a pilfering run through Central Park, which leads to an encounter with the law and a surreal zoo sequence.

I’ll say this for Eleonore—she’s a quick study at parallel parking. But while the movie sees her as an exotic animal, there’s little question she’s a nut job, someone you’d do well to avoid in real life, especially if you carry a handbag. Of the many insignificant little mysteries that go unsolved: What happens to the litter of kittens she steals?

The Pleasure of Being Robbed has a children’s cartoon vibe, an installment of Curious George or some other gently anarchic entertainment that downplays lessons and pointed messages. Handwritten titles enhance its amateur-guerilla texture, to which the 16mm film stock is essential. The New York backdrop is a primary character and Thelonious Monk tickling the ivories on the soundtrack adds warmth.

There will be no dissuading those who judge the movie a rip-off and it’s equally difficult to explain why it’s not a total con job. Still, pleasure is a stretch. Watching Eleonore swipe the stuff of others is hardly a barrel of laughs.

Distributor: IFC
Cast: Eleonore Hendricks, Josh Safdie, Wayne Chin, Jordan Zaldez, Jerry Damons, Dawn Glickman, Batman, Alex and Gary Greenblatt, Miranda and Francesca LaPrelle and Astrid Larson.
Director : Josh Safdie
Screenwriters: Josh Safdie and Eleonore Hendricks
Producers: Brett Jutkiewicz, Zachary Treitz, Sam Lisenco and Josh Safdie
Genre: Comedy/Mystery
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 71 min.
Release date: October 3 NY

Tags: Eleonore Hendricks, Josh Safdie, Wayne Chin, Jordan Zaldez, Jerry Damons, Dawn Glickman, Red Bucket Collective, independent

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