What It’s About: a series of professional and romantic setbacks almost causes a talentless LA. Artist (Mark Ruffalo) to face his own worthlessness
Who It’s For: talentless L.A. artists
This review may be hard to take for those of you who think Mark Ruffalo is perfect. He’s pretty great, I agree. He picks good scripts, he says smart things in interviews, and he’s the sort of male actor whose casting gets people with Tumblr blogs very excited. I enjoy that in movies he seems simultaneously tortured and extremely relaxed, clever but also possibly a little slow. I read a long time ago that he had a brain tumor and got surgery for it and then went back to making movies. That’s impressive, but is it possible that his brain surgery made him better at movies? I think Apartment 12 was made before the surgery. Mark Ruffalo is like John Travolta in the film Phenomenon, except instead of the tumor causing super-intelligence and telekinesis, it causes a super-'90s indie comedy about a frustrated L.A. artist. I’m very glad you got that tumor removed, Mark. (This movie has a 2001 release date but one gets the feeling it sat unreleased for years.)
Mark Ruffalo plays Alex, an L.A. artist about to break into the big time. He does all sorts of art stuff: mixing paints, staring at canvasses, talking to galleries on the phone, painting canvasses, and driving his paintings to galleries. His clothes always have paint on them, so that’s how you know he’s the real deal. He is living the dream! He’s about to have his first one-man show, an event that’s cause for celebrating and job quitting. He tells his pizza place coworkers he’s getting a show: “Do you have any idea what that means?” I honestly don’t, Alex. He won’t get a chance to find out, either. Although the one-man show has been booked, the curator eyeballs some slides of his paintings for about 10 seconds and then says he’s not ready. His paintings are style over substance. It’s almost a metaphor for his personality! Also, his extremely '90s girlfriend Yvette, played by Anne-Marie Johnson, breaks up with him because he is not successful enough.
Alex is back to square one, kicked out of his apartment and delivering pizzas again. Some suits in an office building make fun him. “Is that a pepperoni pizza or are you just glad to see me?” He answers, “That’s funny every time I hear it.” How often do you hear that, Alex? That’s a nonsense joke. Do these guys get square chest boners when they are aroused? “So pizza I forgot to laugh.” He moves into a depressing apartment complex filled with “interesting” “characters”: Ray, the chatty super; Linda, the nosy spinster always at Alex’s door with bad casseroles; and Loverboy, a swarthy lothario who looks like Alfred Molina. Lindsay’s curried spam casserole isn’t very good, and Mark spits it out. Can his life get any worse?
It can. An invitation from Yvette to remain friends sends Alex bolting back to his old house, flowers in tow. Yvette is very disinterested, as she’s in the middle of having very vocal sex. Disheartened, Alex takes up Ray on his offer to go out with some ladies. The ladies are weird and gross, obviously. When Alex tells a girl named Coyote that he just broke up with his girlfriend, she screams and throws wine on his shirt. “I feel like I’ve just been shit on!” This is the only swear word in the movie, and I think this scene earns it, because so far that is also what I feel like.
About the only good thing left in Alex’s life is that he’s able to take a hot shower. There is an oddly long shot of him behind a translucent shower curtain, and the movie lingers a little too long on both his butt and crotch. (I mean that the shot length is oddly long, not his penis.) I am a big fan of gratuitous nudity, but regardless of gender, the blurry dick shot is a bit out of place in this quirky Reality Blows. When Ray turns off the water mid-shower, Alex explodes up at him. He doesn’t want Ray’s help “finding a new horse” i.e. girlfriend. “Fuck the horse and the horse it rode in on.” I’m sure Ray could only fuck one of those horses. If there is a horse that is strong enough to have another horse ride on its back, you do not fuck it. It fucks you.
Little does Alex realize he’s got a date with meet-cute destiny. A new neighbor has moved in across the hall, and he surprises her in the laundry room. She yells at him for sneaking up on her. Oh no, they hate each other. He’s in a bad place and she hates being surprised. I bet they never get over it. Oh, they’re already over it. “Hi I’m Lori, I’m new in town. “Hi, I’m Alex, I just broke up with my girlfriend.” Why not ease into that, Alex? Also, is there a more 90’s way to spell Laurie than Lori? A Lori is what Brits call a truck in The Real World: London.
Lori, though dressed like a lesbian placekicker, is cute and charming and a fantastic antidote to Alex and his unbearable depression. She doesn’t know much about art, like a normal person, but she has the decency to ask about Alex’s paintings. He says, “They’re trying to explore the interaction between light and color and surface tension.” Man. Alex should try to explore the interaction between his head and the surface tension of water 180 feet below the side of a bridge. She’s an Air Force brat, and she takes him to a gun range, which is genuinely a fun date idea. That makes him nervous. He tells Ray, “I’m a painter. I should be going out with models from Milan!” Yes, go to Milan. Go far away. I hope you turn out to be SARS Patient Zero.
Alex’s loneliness and Lori’s charms get the better of him, and they start sleeping together. There is a montage of the two of them sneaking around and playing grab-ass. They are having so much fun, but Alex’s career anxieties take over. When Alex sweetly invites him to an art opening she read about, he flips out over her doing the crossword wrong. (Apparently the son of Zeus is not “Junior.”) He still follows her to the opening, where she is drunkenly talking up the artist behind the show. Alex calls the guy’s work “unoriginal, banal, contrived.” Yvette is now dating this guy. If I was in a room and someone sincerely used the word “banal," I’d leave that room.
Somehow, Lori is immune to Alex’s terrible qualities, of which there are many, and she says in bed, “I love you.” He doesn’t answer back, and it’s probably unwise that she follows it up with an announcement that her parents will be in town the next day and that they are excited to meet him. Alex doesn’t respond well to clinging. He sneaks out of her room and avoids her the whole next day. With the door bolted, he tells her, “I’m pretty busy.” What a cool scumbag.
She gives him a lift to work and it quickly turns into a fight. He says some very horrible things about her family for no real reason? “Only psychopaths and criminals join the Air Force.” Whoa! That’s a pretty chill attitude for a talentless degenerate. Alex suggests they see other people, and he becomes (even more) pathetic. He tries to ask out the apartment complex’s resident stripper. She invites him to a party. “I’m in Apartment 17. You know, like lucky number seven..teen?” Oh I know. That’s a good and classic way to remember the number seventeen. He tries to make out with her but she owns a lot of birds and she gets mad at him, I think. Honestly, the camera is not always in focus in this scene. (I guess the scene was so good they couldn’t imagine losing it.)
Alex then catches Lori inviting her lawyer date into her apartment. He sets up a ladder against the side of the building to spy into her window, like a goddamn creep. While he did this I actively wished somebody would arrest him. Luckily, he falls over, and that’s exactly what happens. Lori and all his neighbors are disgusted with him. Linda drops off a chili casserole with a note about how bad she feels for him. Ray reveals himself to be an art enthusiast, and he chides Alex’s work. “It’s like warmed-up 60’s Impressionism without the balls,” he says, which is not a collection of words that mean anything.
Alex sits sadly in his apartment, his career and his relationship in ruins. He stares at one of his paintings in disgust, and he angrily tosses Lindsay’s chili at the canvas. The chili splatters all over his work, and suddenly Alex finds himself mesmerized by it. When this happened, I literally said out loud, “PLEASE let this be his new art.” Surely the movie wouldn’t be that stupid? What a ridiculous third act twist that would be! BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS! The camera zooms in on the chili stain and then fades to the chili-stained painting hanging in a gallery, one of many food-spill works in Alex’s new one-man show. The same art snobs who’d chided him earlier now fete him as the new darling of the art world. It’s incredible. Yvette wants to fuck him again! He almost gets back together with her, before he realizes he misses Lori. Remember when he turned all of Linda’s casseroles into art? It was only a few sentences back, but I don’t want you to forget it.
Lori has moved out of the apartment complex, her heart broken, but Alex tracks her down. He slips one of his sketchbooks into her room, a nod to earlier, when she encouraged him to draw more after seeing him doodle salt and pepper shakers. (He had condescendingly dismissed it. “It means nothing. It’s just technique.”) She finds the sketchbook filled with drawings of her. Alex has won the girl from Apartment 12 back. What is truly wonderful here is that the drawings are very clearly just high-contrast photocopies of Lori. No one on this movie had the time, talent, budget or commitment to hire somebody to make real drawings of the actress playing Lori. “It’s fine. Just crank that knob up on the Xerox. Have you seen the rest of the film? Who cares.” Yes, who cares.
When You Should Watch It: No, the question really is, “When shouldn’t you watch it?” And the answer is ever.