Friday, February 6, 2009

Man Under

About: Tis an artsy film with a nod towards The Squid And The Whale. Totally out of left field and a unique read.

Writer: Ann Cherkis

Man Under is a rather odd story about a family from Yonkers that’s all sorts of fucked up. Stephen, the father, lives in the basement and refuses to talk to his family. Miriam, the mother, is a beautiful librarian who dreams of collecting first edition books she can’t afford. Wally, their geeky teenage son, is so used to getting bullied that he’s actually bored of it. And Joy, the fellow-geek daughter, is so obsessed with “cock” that she sneaks a peek at male porn whenever she gets a chance. The family has basically given up on being a family.

I’m not really a “wacky family movie” kind of guy. But this script had so much depth to the characters that it made up for a lot of the things in the genre that I usually hate (don't get me started on Little Miss Sunshine!). The film that most comes to mind when reading Man Under is The Squid And The Whale. However whereas that movie forces its depression down your throat for the sole purpose of wanting to depress you , the depression here stems from an actual event – a subway train the father was driving hitting and killing a suicide jumper – what is known as a “Man Under”. The event destroys the father and sends him into a deep depression, ultimately taking the rest of the family along with him. One death, five lives lost .

But then the family receives a mysterious trunk in the mail that contains dozens of old but fashionable (in a quirky retro way) clothes. On a whim, everyone (sans the father) decides to throw on an outfit and head into Manhattan. Once there, they’re spotted by a strange but beautiful photographer, who asks to take their picture. When the photographer dies three months later, the picture becomes semi-famous, and the family finds themselves becoming mini-celebrities.

Each family member uses their mini-celebrity to pursue things they were previously too afraid to, and each storyline that results is quietly interesting. Wally asks out the hot girl. Joy starts dating a man twice her age. Miriam develops a relationship with a fellow book lover - a woman - that teeters on romance. And Stephen? Well, he's still haunted by that horrible day. But even he finds redemption. That’s one of the unique aspects I liked about the script. Usually the “coming-of-age” story centers around a single person. Here, it tackles an entire family.

Man Under does what any good story should. It introduces you to a cast of characters you’d never find in your day-to-day life, and makes you want to follow them. I don’t think the narrative here is mainstream enough to propel the script to the big screen. But it’s a wonderful character study, and something you might enjoy reading if you have a couple of hours.


The power of a unique character holds a lot of weight. Coco is a 14 year old girl obsessed with ballet so as to help forget the memory of her sister. Joy is a geek obsessed with sex. Wally isn't scared of bullies. He’s bored with them. Sherman has given up on his family. Miriam is a beautiful librarian who hasn’t thought about accentuating her beauty until now. I haven’t read a single character like any of these people in any screenplay I’ve ever read. Remember that when writing your characters.