by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Everything Is Illuminated & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ow do you tell a story about yourself without exposing your rampant narcissism or opening your bizarrely earnest philosophies to an uncaring, cynical world? You go fictional. You write yourself into a story told by someone else. You let the characters make the grandiloquent statements and, if people criticize them -- well, they weren't your words, they were your character's. You were using them to point out the softness and naivet & eacute; of the age. That's called postmodernism, friends. It's a sideways whack at self-seriousness through the gauzy lens of falsified irreverence, and it's a big part of what made Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Everything Is Illuminated, so great.
For reasons that aren't his fault -- reasons that have to do with the nature of literature versus that of film -- Liev Schreiber's adaptation of Safran Foer's book has none of those wonderful postmodern elements. In the film, there's no sense that Safran Foer is telling this story through a fictional narrator. Here he's just a character -- the impetus for the film, but not its center. That's just as well, because Foer isn't as interesting as the events swirling around him. The film takes place in the Ukraine, and at its center are a teenager, Alex (Eugene Hutz), and his grandfather (Boris Leskin). They run a service reuniting descendents of Holocaust Jews with the locations where their relatives lived (or, in most cases, died). Safran Foer hires the duo to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape the Germans.
Sounds more depressing than it is, though. Alex is a break-dancer and club kid whose self professed love for the "American Negroes" and hip-hop culture makes him a pariah in his family. Most of the considerable humor in the film derives from Alex speaking broken English with panache.
The film eventually meditates on the importance and power of history (all of the characters are anchored by the horror of the Third Reich), but the effort comes a little too late. There's wholly too much focus placed on humor and kitsch in Schrieber's screenplay. Such things often countervail tragedy, making it all the more bitter and forceful, but the ratio's off here, leaving us unsure what to feel. (Rated PG-13)