Gray's Anatomy (1997)
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Critic Reviews for Gray's Anatomy
A chatty, colorful, nicely sardonic account of how a crisis led Mr. Gray to assess his medical state, consider his mortality and take one more funny, self-dramatizing look at the eccentric world around him.
At best, Gray is a tragicomic Everyman who strikes an empathic chord in his admiring audience; at worst, he's a middle-aged, self-absorbed, hopelessly provincial New Yorker -- an urban hick who won't shut up.
There's something intrinsically insincere about the whole quest. Gray is on a search less for a cure than for material.
Gray's Anatomy finds Spalding Gray turning a bout with a bizarre ocular condition into a dizzying, absorbing odyssey of the neurotic mind.
It is haunting, though. How could it not be, when the last lines of the monolog are "Ecstasy, despair, ecstasy, despair" and some mention of a big fish?
Audience Reviews for Gray's Anatomy
He has taken a swim in Cambodia, faced the terrors of pleasure, and has been a monster in a box, and now Spalding Gray is back for the sweeping conclusion to the "Hour-and-a-Half About Some Christian Science Talking About Whatever Tetralogy". Yeah, I don't know of anyone who cares, outside of bums like me who don't really have much of anything to do outside of watching this film, because this is probably the most notorious feature presentation of a Spalding Gray monologue, and people still hardly keep up with it, even though they're trying to keep things stylish while Gray rambles on about something. Man, the other films about Gray's monologues were just recordings of live performances, and therefore had no pretense of being some seriously deep art cinema, but here, they're busting out the green screen, tweaking the Spalding Gray mythology, getting some additional interviews that aren't of Gray, and all around really milking $350,000 for all its worth for some blockbuster monologue excitement. Hey, I'm sure it will work, because as "Che" will tell you, Steven Soderbergh can make overlong meditations about infamous people thoroughly exciting. Yeah, all Steve has to do is extend this film to four hours, split it into two parts, and have Gray cough and speak Spanish throughout such a runtime, then this film will be really, really riveting. Okay, I liked "Che" just fine, but seriously, sarcasm doesn't really work in writing, which isn't to say that Gray's monologues in this film don't tell you that sarcasm doesn't work all that much better when it's delivered for about 80 minutes. Don't get me wrong, the film works a whole lot better than you might fear, so much so that it borders on pretty rewarding, but the point is that the "anatomy" of this film's "story"telling has its share of questionable areas. Built around a monologue in which Spalding Gray regales us with a story about an eye condition of his, the film opens up with third party interviews with random bums - who bring up their own eye condition stories that are - that are reasonably interesting, as well as complimentary to the film's colorful little theme, but occupy the first almost ten minutes of the final product before clearing to allow Gray entrance with his monologue, and, as you can imagine, such a transition into this film's body is jarring, as well as only the beginning. As if it's not bad enough that this film begins by holding its core story for a while for the sake of monologues from people who, for all you know, only relate to Gray because they also have interesting eye stories, there are occasions in which Gray's monologue is interrupted by yet more third party interviews, and while these moments are very rare, when they occur, they bring color and all with them, but also focal unevenness and excess fat that may very well be needed in a case like this. Running approximately 80 minutes, this film achieves a feature length by the hair of a short eyelash (The film's about eyes; get it?), and doesn't do so easily, being not only bloated with the aforementioned excessively overdrawn third party monologues that pop in on occasion, but by Gray's story, which is consistently engaging, to one degree or another, but unabridged, and therefore free to get aimless and repetitious (Note that Gray will often break off into a discussion of a little subplot that is just as detrimental to the consistency of the film's core focus as the infrequently used third party monologues), with a certain blandness that is exacerbated by the surprisingly very occasional atmospheric cold spell. Surprisingly, the film is never dull, as liveliness is rather impressively kept consistent, but there are those limp moments that really shake an investment loosened, not simply by excessive dragging which is made in a desperate attempt to fill out the tightest of lengths, but by this premise's questionability. In the style of a one-man play, this film is really nothing more than a stylish presentation of Spalding Gray simply sitting there and telling us a colorful, rather inconsequential little story, and that premise concept is certainly unique, but also outrageously thin and questionable, because while this storytelling format ostensibly works when you're presented it through the objective medium of stage performance, it cannot entirely work in the subjective world of cinema. Sure, director Steven Soderbergh realizes this and does everything in his power to flavor up this presentation of Gray's monologue, but no matter how inspired the direction is, or how well Gray tells his tale, you can do only so much to polish a premise this thin, and you certainly can't do any polishing with the occasional piece of focal unevenness and much dragging, which go into securing the final product as rather underwhelming. Of course, while this film was never to go too far, for what it is, it goes about as far as it can, and that, believe it or not, is enough to get it by as borderline rewarding, partially because this film's "story" concept isn't as problematic as you might think. A film like this, where we focus solely on someone "telling" us a story, can either fall tremendously flat as mediocre, maybe even borderline unwatchable, or work near-miraculously, and the first step out of the potential "repellingness" of a non-plot of this type is a discussion that is genuinely interesting, and sure enough, while the idea of someone telling us a story about eye appointments doesn't exactly sound riveting, Spalding Gray's story is a colorful one that doesn't simply tell us a reasonably interesting anecdote, but offers some insight into Gray's life, resulting in a degree of immediate intrigue. There's something pretty endearing about Gray's story in concept, and in order for that to come across on the screen enough to keep you engaged through all of Gray's ramblings, what script there is needs to be pretty sharp, like this film's script, which is written by Gray and ex-wife Renée Shafransky, and offers plenty of sharp dialogue, as well as very nifty visual concepts. Even the third party interviews, while infrequently used and seriously detrimental to the consistency in this film's focus, are pretty interesting, with a very down-to-earth charm that colorfully compliments the themes of this obviously highly intimate character study, but really, at the end of the day, only one speaker matters, and that is the late, great Mr. Spalding Gray himself, who delivers, boasting impeccable line delivery and a very sharp taste in sarcasm which go into building sparkling charisma that can and does carry a film like this a long, long way. Gray's type of charm may not gel with everyone, but for me, it is thoroughly engaging, so much so that is, of course, anchors this one-man act, and yet, while Gray helps in keeping things entertaining, he cannot do too much to keep things dynamic, which is where the style within this monologue presentation comes in. In order to combat the monotony of watching someone ramble on for about an hour-and-a-quarter about as much as it can, the film accompanies Gray's discussions with stylish visual supplements that not only prove to be highly effective in the flavoring up of Gray's storytelling, but offer some nice eye candy, especially when at the center of this film's cinematography's focus, because even though this is one of those handful of moments in which Steven Soderbergh steps down from his persona as Peter Andrews, one of today's great cinematographers, Soderbergh's remarkable tastes in visual style clearly influence Elliot Davis' photography, whose haunting plays with lighting and coloring draw out the depths of the film's visuals in order to add to what dynamicity there is to this minimalist film. Really, Soderbergh's direction influences more than just the film's visual style, and ultimately proves to be about as effective as anything in keeping the final product alive, playing with Cliff Martinez's gorgeously stylish score, Susan Littenberg's snappy editing, and the aforementioned excellent visual style in a way that really livens things up, when not colorfully immersing you into the heart of this film. I praise the handling of this film, sure, but make no mistake, a film like this cannot be rewarding, as it is just so conceptually questionable, and yet, for what it is, this effort is handled with enough inspiration to keep you entertained much more often than not, even if you are bound to walk away about as rewarded as you can be by something that was always doomed to be somewhat underwhelming. When all of the talking is finally done, you're left with a film that has uneven moments and repetitious dragging in order to reach a certain airtight length, but it was never going to be able to fully wash away tremendous natural shortcomings that prevent the final product from rewarding, which isn't to say that the film doesn't still come close to bypassing underwhelmingness, as there is enough intrigue to Spalding Gray's story and charisma to Gray's telling of such a story, as well as enough dynamically colorful style to the monologue's presentation for "Gray's Anatomy" to stand as a surprisingly very entertaining and very inspired meditation upon a chapter in the now-closed life of Spalding Gray, even though it was never to go too far. 2.75/5 - Decent
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