In his 1999 short story collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace used transcripts from fictional interviews to portray men’s hidden inner lives. The interrogator invisible and his questions omitted, the interviews read like confessional monologues.
That worked well when it was later adapted for stage, but The Office’s John Krasinski, in his directorial debut, faced a daunting task in bringing the conceit to the big screen. How do you hold the attention of an audience watching on DVDs in their living rooms?
Krasinski’s first step was to give a face to the inquisitor. Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) is a college teacher’s assistant who believes her feminist studies would be enlightened more by hearing from average men rather than female academics. But she explains this only in the film’s penultimate minute. Until then, the director’s playful bending of time and space forces us to make our own sense of the interwoven monologues.
Most of these take place in a stark interrogation room. Ben Shenkman (Burn Notice) confesses an uncontrollable tendency to blurt “Victory for the forces of democratic freedom!” while making love. A one-armed Bobby Cannavale (Third Watch) explains how he uses his disability to gain women’s sympathy.
But occasionally the walls break down. Some monologues Quinn simply overhears — at coffee shops, strolling across campus. One of the film’s most gripping scenes begins in the interrogation room, as an older black man (Frankie Faison) recalls with contempt his father’s lifelong career as a restroom attendant for rich, white businessmen. But in an electrifying juxtaposition, we’re suddenly in that opulent restroom, and the son is directly confronting his young father.
At times, though, the film’s dialogue is all too self-possessed. Defending his one-night stand with a crunchy hippie, Krasinski quips to Quinn, “Having had some prior dealings with the cruncher genius, I think the one-night proviso was due mostly to the grim unimaginability of having to talk to her for more than one night.”
Such smug dialogue would itself be unimaginable in a less artful film, but Krasinski pulls it off by doing with film what would have been nearly impossible on page or stage.