Little Death (2024)

Little Death Review

Little Death (2024)

In this if slightly jumbled together psychodrama, David Schwimmer takes risks. It starts out as a hyperactive life-in-crisis movie, like a sadder and more self-involved Fight Club, then jumps the shark halfway through with a twist so shocking that anyone who’s been drawn in by the sight of the Friends star’s face on its poster will probably hate it. But those who follow first-time director Jack Begert down the rabbit hole into the film’s wild second half which seems to have absolutely nothing to do with what came before it until it suddenly becomes apparent that this is actually a movie about opioid use and the butterfly effects of addiction may find themselves weirdly satisfied.

Begert’s film has acquired an unintentionally meta level in light of recent events involving Schwimmer’s former co-star Matthew Perry, but sadly only underscores its main theme, which is the human cost of the pursuit of happiness in contemporary America. Schwimmer plays Martin Solomon, a screenwriter who’s about to direct his first independent feature and is going insane. In voiceover, Martin reflects on how he was once used as part of a psychological experiment as a child; he was made to stand next to fridgefuls of missing-child milk cartons with his face on them, and nobody noticed for six hours which led him to ask himself: “Was it cosmic indifference? Or was it me that wasn’t worth it?”

His struggle is familiar enough: trying to make high art in a city where “85% of Uber drivers aspire to be famous”. Convinced he’s just a hack with 11 seasons of some body-swap sitcom as his legacy behind him, Martin believes that making this movie will save him. But one of its main financiers threatens otherwise by laying down some conditions, chief among which is that Martin’s pale-stale-male protagonist must be replaced by a woman (which actually happens in the movie, when Martin is played without comment, and for a while by Gaby Hoffmann, in a very funny Buñuelian flourish). Things seem to be looking up again when Martin actually meets the beautiful woman from his creepy AI-generated dreams in real life, at a bookstore, and takes down her number.

Of course Hollywood plays itself once more: Martin is a writer who can’t express himself or make himself heard in this capital of the creative universe (“Can we forget the pills and the dream analysis?” he pleads to his shrink. “Can we just talk?”). There’s something of Gilliam’s Brazil here, especially once Martin finds himself at war with the new woke bureaucracy that’s threatening the integrity of his script (“People would rather be called a bigot than a pedophile in this town,” he snaps). Meanwhile Jess (Jena Malone), his wife, is planning a vacation to Costa Rica but isn’t this an especially bad time for him to leave?

Where it goes next is pretty shocking; though it would have been even more so if Bertrand Bonello hadn’t done almost exactly this in The Beast at Venice 2023. Obviously there’s some David Lynch Lost Highway action happening here too, but mostly I kept thinking of Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines as I tried to grapple with what on earth Begert was doing. Suddenly there’s another story going on here entirely, following an entirely different cast of much younger characters; and Little Death switches into another gear entirely after its overloaded opening section.

This new tempo takes a minute to adjust to; it moves from the realm of prescription drugs and into an anything-goes street market. Darren Aronofsky is on board as producer, which makes sense you can see strong hints at his Requiem for a Dream in here (2000), the film that got Ellen Burstyn an Oscar nomination for playing a speed-addicted old lady. But it’s mostly its own thing and deservedly won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Innovator Award this year. I wonder what Begert will do next, because the first half of this movie is so kinetic with ideas that the sleekness of its second half almost feels like it belongs to someone else. They meet somewhere in between those two modes with some kind of strange alchemy, but there’s nothing here for normal people. Little Death will be as divisive as Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid, and just as satisfyingly weird about being itself.

Watch Little Death For Free On Gomovies.

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