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TJFF 2012: ‘We Need to Talk About Dorfman’



Directed by Bradley Leong

Written by Wendy Kout

USA, 2011

After her mother dies, Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue), a timid accountant, has to live with her perpetually grumpy father (Elliot Gould) in the San Fernando Valley. A hopeless romantic, Deb is irreparably enraptured with Jay (Johann Urb), her brother’s war-zone reporter friend.

When Jay needs someone to cat-sit while he’s doing a piece in Afghanistan, Deb jumps at the chance, moving into his flat in downtown Los Angeles where the city, and some of its inhabitants, become a catalyst for her metamorphosis.

Justin and Taegan discuss.

Taegan: Dorfman is really lighthearted, well intentioned and inoffensive. It has a lot of Jewish jokes, which is sometimes excluding. At the screening, people were laughing at jokes and words that completely went over my head. I can see why it’s featured at TJFF.

Justin: I felt pretty lukewarm about it. It’s not great, it’s not bad; it just inhabits a middle ground of mediocrity. It’s well produced, well made, and it looks professional.

Taegan: It’s really well shot. Especially when photographing landmarks and tourist destinations of LA.

Justin: Exactly. The film is clearly a love letter to LA, very much the same way Woody Allen film’s are for New York, and the passion translates into beautiful cinematography.

Taegan: It does feel like a classic Woody Allen romantic comedy.

Justin: Yes, especially Hannah and Her Sisters. I’m a huge Allen fan, and any film that remotely tries to mimic his work is watchable by default, but Dorfman doesn’t even come close.

Taegan: Yeah. Instead of being an Allen type film, the film feels like a version of American Pie, except Jason Biggs is a woman and Eugene Levy is Elliot Gould. The child is an awkward, stammering introvert while the father is a foul-mouthed and obliviously offensive. They seem stock.

Justin: I see what you mean, but the character of Deb, and the story itself, really minded me of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. She even looks like Alicia Silverstone. Her acting is fine, if sometimes too hammed up, but the major flaw throughout the film is its comedic timing. Most of the time, she’s the only humorous character in a scene, so when she’s bouncing dialogue off another person, her awkwardness is out of place, and somewhat excessive. It grows tiring as it goes along.

Taegan: I want to talk about the Jay character, the love interest. In a lot of these romantic comedies, there’s always this issue of the girl falling in love with a guy who’s really dumb, really conceited and egotistic. He’s all about himself and keeps on interrupting her when they’re talking. Why doesn’t she notice that?

Justin: The film kind of addresses that in the end. Her naivety and ignorance, as epitomized by her love of erotic novellas, have made her unable to see his flaws. In theory, anyway, because I never got the sense that he was a bad guy until the film magically decides to make him one. It is contrived and a bit hard to believe. It is an excuse rather than an explanation.

Taegan: Also, the thing about her mom dying seems a little irrelevant. As much as they talk about her death being deeply affecting, it has no impact or bearing on their decisions and outcomes. It feels manipulative in how much they talk about it and how inconsequential it is.

Justin: I think it was supposed to be the starting point where the family dynamics begin to change and characters started behaving differently, but, yeah, it was poorly conceived and executed.

Justin: For most of the film, the characters and their situations seem genuine, even if predictable, but the ending is where it falls apart. It manufactures a happy conclusion and took away much of its effectiveness.

Taegan: Everything is fairly predictable. You’ll likely know what’s going to happen by the first thirty minutes, and when you’re first introduced to various characters, we know how they will end up. It’s still fun, and like I said, it’s inoffensive, even if the father isn’t. It’s a decent date movie if you’re dating a Jewish girl.

– Justin Li

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