What do you scream when feeling pleasure? If you’re Subject No. 14, “Victory for the forces of Democratic Freedom!” is the first thing that comes to mind. If you’re Subject No. 14, you’re also starring in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
So, let’s just assume that you aren’t Subject No. 14, Subject No. 34 or any subject number for that matter. The one thing that can be assumed, then, is that you are either a man or a woman, and you have interacted with other men and women in your lifetime. Perhaps your world is fixed and knowable. You’ve learned enough about members of the other sex to truly believe that you understand them, and you have lived comfortably in your knowledge for most of your lifetime.
Well un-know what you know and think more along the lines of John Krasinski and his feature film directorial debut.
Let’s concede that to think like Krasinski, you must also think like David Foster Wallace, the author of the novel Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which Krasinski adapted for the screen. Krasinski first came into contact with the idea for the script during his time at Brown University, when his friends were producing an onstage version of the material and he was invited to perform.
While Krasinski is most recognizable as the adorably nerdy Jim Halpert from The Office, his acting in Brief Interviews is more compelling than anything he has yet to star in. The film itself may be one of the most powerful of this year.
Although his scenes are limited, Krasinski plays an absolutely critical role in the film and in the character development of co-star Julianne Nicholson (Kinsey, Law and Order: Criminal Intent), who plays Sara Quinn. Quinn is a graduate student conducting a series of interviews in order to discover what men essentially think about women, and how women’s actions throughout history have affected men’s views.
Quinn pieces together data from countless men, obtained either by formal interviews or overheard conversations. Each man has a different story, expressed very differently to Quinn, but most have a similar strain: emotional instability. While women are often pegged as the emotionally unstable partners in modern relationships, Brief Interviews provides some insight to how men are often the more strained, tormented and fragile of the pair.
In one interview, Subject No. 40 explains how he uses his amputated arm to get women into bed; in another, Subject No. 46, talks about how rape can be a beneficial experience for women. What audiences realize by the end of the film is that Krasinski’s Ryan — Subject No. 20 and coincidentally, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend — is actually the most insightful and honest “hideous male” of all. None of the men are able to reveal their real issues, their inner workings and the true way they perceive women, and superficial analysis of important events or traits (like an amputated arm) and overly dramatic theories (like rape being a positive occurrence) mask what they are truly feeling.
The breakthrough for Quinn comes only when Krasinski’s character delivers an intensely emotional performance, his “interview” being an explanation to Quinn about their past relationship. This scene is one of the most powerful moments in the film not only because of its unique spin, but also because of Krasinski’s performance. It almost appears as if Krasinski had held that scene in his mind for years, perfecting it and casting himself in the part because he felt that only he could achieve the chilling effect his monologue exudes.
What is more surprising about Brief Interviews is not the serious tone or nature of the film (although the film begins with witty writing, it is inherently depressing) or its inadvertent theme of honesty, but the performances delivered by each member of the cast. From the subject who screams obscurely about democracy during pleasure to the eerily somber and humbling subject who speaks about his father’s occupation to the laughable subjects whose stories play with one’s mind, each and every actor manages to deliver a memorable performance. This is considerably noteworthy, since the cast of subjects is rather large.
While Quinn’s research stands as the main plotline, this part of the story simply moves along. It is the interview scenes that shine brightly — exactly as Krasinski intended. The scenes where men are in the midst of their interview telling Quinn, a woman they have likely never met, more about themselves than even they could realize, are the driving mechanisms of the film. Although none are particularly honest, what the men do decide to tell Quinn is wholly indicative of their character; the audience and Quinn can see right through them. This emotion is where the viewer’s interest lies, what inspired Krasinski to act in the first place, and what Wallace wrote about in his book. As a result, what the viewer comes away with is not necessarily enlightenment, but a fresh perspective on the male sex.