Short Reviews: Dummy (2002)

Steven (Adrien Brody) is an incredibly shy and timid man, still living with his parents at the age of 30, who’s just lost his job. He finds a small relief in the companionship of his gauche friend Fangora (Milla Jovovich) despite her semi-permanent enraged state. Suddenly unemployed, he decides to pursue an interest in ventriloquism; the dummy provides him a more confident voice, which comes in handy when he takes a shine to his unemployment officer Lenora (Vera Farmiga).

Dummy is one of those films that gets let down by describing it. It’s an off-beat and quirky little romantic comedy/drama, and it’s a perfect example of a quiet little indie-film – which many can find off-putting. But this film, that sounds relatively by-the-numbers (or at the very least, not particularly innovative) has a good heart and is really enjoyable. It’s not quirky in the same forced-down-your-throat way that Little Miss Sunshine is, it just happens to be refreshingly unusual. Significantly, Steven’s interest in ventriloquism doesn’t mean we get a buddy-comedy with him and the dummy – it’s just a character trait that‘s important to the story without relying on outrageous antics.

Adrien Brody is on good form as the timid Steven, and at the very least, the ventriloquism which he actually performed for the film is quite impressive. But it’s also nice to see this not-especially-impressive guy open up and get to overcome his shyness, in a way that isn’t the sole theme of the movie – it just happens along the way.

Vera Farmiga is fantastic as always (she’s kind of snuck up on me out of nowhere over the past year, and I think she’s incredible) and it’s nice to see Lenora as a character who has her own problems without the film relying on one-single-issue to serve as the confusing-factor in the third act.

Milla Jovovich is also having a lot of fun playing the over-the-top Fangora, without making her the “zany and wacky” friend, although she is both zany and wacky.

The real surprise for me though is Illeana Douglas (who I usually find irritating) as Steven’s bitchy wedding-planner sister Heidi. It was nice to see her start out on usual form and then change Heidi into a really sympathetic character who was as easy to root for as the others.

The script is full of wit and wry comedy without overstating it. I particularly liked a moment where Lenora told Steven a story about her fiancée being hit by a car, and his only response in this moment is “I usually look both ways…”

Dummy is a film that could very easily have become part of the trite indie-film scene, but with some strong performances and a clever script that doesn’t try to force its conventions, it’s a quietly enjoyable watch. It’s nothing world-changing, but it’s a sweet, put-together-well movie that’s really endearing.

One of those movies that finishes and leaves you smiling and feeling a bit content.

Trailer below, though I think it misrepresents the film:

NB: The movie is available in full on YouTube…but give the filmmakers your money; it’s worth it.


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