It’s not a new point to discuss David Gordon Green’s sellout hackwork middle career stage, but his recent “return to his roots” phase is fresher still and only recently of this Earth; thus, it provides a far more welcome object of inquiry. The hackwork phase has been written about on end, and while I happen to think Pineapple Express is a fairly nuanced redirecting of Green’s trademark hush for the purposes of a stoner comedy, there’s nothing more to be said about his duo of 2011 misfires. Far more interesting are his recent efforts, epitomized by his 2013 release Joe. Many have taken to considering it a return to form, and while the film is strong and textured in many exciting ways, I cannot join the train. Owing more to post-Green works like Winter’s Bone, his recent films retain the social realism of his earlier works but run dangerously close to recreating the trees at the expense of the forest. The honest characters and hard-hitting drama mostly follow through, but the poetic post-Malick haze and thoughtful melancholy of Green’s abstracted reflection of everyday human activity has been lost to time. Continue reading
Joe is a return to maturity for director David Gordon Green, although this is not necessarily the same as a return to full form. Recently, he set his sights on a duo of pot-addled comedies centering a drug most appropriate for viewing Gordon Green’s earlier art films (the first of the two also aped the visual style of Green’s poetic examinations of humanity to fascinating effect), followed by an even more insipid comedy that had nothing to do with weed. He had lost his way. Now, the once-beloved indie director has seen it fit to grasp for his old critical darling status by returning to low-and-slow character drama and natural earthen beauty.
In the transition, he’s lost a certain peculiar magic, and the finished product seems more like a Green impostor that only understands Green on the surface. But then, surface-level Green is a hell of a lot better than most films, and certainly a gargantuan, lurching leap above his recent 2010s comedy ventures. Joe doesn’t have the Midas touch, but it doesn’t need it. It’s a damn fine social realist drama, and I for one am never too curmudgeonly to bask in the glories of a nice social realist stew. Continue reading
David Gordon Green. A discussion of Pineapple Express does not begin with Seth Rogen. It doesn’t begin with James Franco. It begins with Americana indie darling David Gordon Green, who accepted Pineapple Express as his first major Hollywood film in one of the most curious and perplexing “go big” moves by any independent director this side of ever. The more shocking thing: if you squint, and even if you don’t, it’s not too difficult to see the whole film as Gordon Green having fun with his indie film aesthetic. That’s a stretch, sure, but it’s clear that his rambling, lackadaisical camera and slow-going filmsmanship more interested in waiting around and chilling with his characters is in effect in Pineapple Express as much as in any other film he’s ever made – he’s just traded in “detached, humanist exploration of human distance” with “a Sunday afternoon’s high”, and the way he finds similarities between the two is quite cinematically exciting indeed. Continue reading