Living in Oblivion (1995) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: Rated R for strong language      
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, Danielle von Zernick, James LeGros
Director: Tom DiCillo
Screenplay: Tom DiCillo

Review published February 12, 2003

Although filmmaking about filmmaking would seem like an incestuous topic, probably only appealing to others in the industry, it actually is one of the most fascinating subjects for movies, letting us see the trials and tribulations of trying to transform a personal vision into "reality," a personal vision that often involves dozens, of not hundreds of others who all have their own feelings on how things should be done.  The actors all want the film to be complementary to their personalities, the scriptwriter wants little alterations, and even the lighting director think things aren't being shot in the best possible light, literally and figuratively.  The behind-the-scenes action of Living in Oblivion is no exception, and although we've seen many films just like it in recent years, such as Mistress and The Big Picture, Tom DiCillo's (Double Whammy, Box of Moon Light) creation distinguishes itself by being about a independent filmmaking, not greatly influenced by the dictation of a major studio or bigwig producer, but by conflicts within the filmmaker himself.

Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Barton Fink) stars as Nick, a small-time director suffering from anxiety over his latest low-budget independent flick.  He has a premonition that it's going to be a day when nothing goes right, forcing him to perform retake after retake, until the entire production threatens to collapse from flaring tensions and an inability to create just the right feeling.

Living in Oblivion is a low budget film in its own right, but it does succeed in pulling together a very capable cast, with Steve Buscemi in particular providing a terrific performance.  The rest of the cast are filled with likeable character actors, and James LeGros (Singles, Boys) steals many of the laughs as a hotshot heartthrob actor that schmoozes his way into practically directing the film himself, so that all eyes are focused on him.

It doesn't quite all hold together in terms of making sense, as there are dream sequences mixed into the reality, and reality mixed into dream scenes of the film itself.  For instance, one such dream has Dermot Mulroney's (My Best Friend's Wedding, About Schmidt) characters injuring himself and having to sport an eye patch and later when the "real" movie is being made, he is there donning the patch.  However, such inconsistencies seem a minor quibble when compared to Living in Oblivion's larger charms, with a very witty script (also by DiCillo) and some terrific performances all around.

It's a small film, so your local video store may not carry it, but it's a favorite on the independent film channels on cable, so keep your eyes peeled for the next showing.  Living in Oblivion is a funny take on the frustrations of trying to get everything just right and never succeeding to your own satisfaction, a theme which is universal, whether you are in the business of movies or not.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo