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Sundance 2010 has seen several actors make the transition into directing. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Diego Luna both have films premiering here, but it was Mark Ruffalo’s film, Sympathy for Delicious, that caught my attention with its outlandish premise. In the film, Dean O’Dwyer (played by writer and real-life paraplegic Christopher Thornton) plays a down-on-his luck DJ (stage-name “Delicious”) who suddenly discovers he has the power to heal people by laying hands on them. A priest (Mark Ruffalo) will try to use O’Dwyer’s powers for his own purposes, while a band leader (Orlando Bloom) tries to explore its commercial potential.

Hit the jump for some of my thoughts on the film, as well as a video blog with people from CHUD and Firstshowing.

Sympathy for Delicious
is certainly unique; I don’t think I ever have, nor will I ever again, see a film like this. The film has several hallmarks of a personal passion project. Thornton and Ruffalo have been friends for decades and Thornton himself wrote the script as a way of working out his feelings towards his own disability. Unfortunately, the final film lacks focus, bringing up many interesting ideas but lacking in follow-through.

Ruffalo’s primary achievement here is in adeptly fusing the fantastical with the gritty. The dark side of LA is brought to life onscreen as a grimy, filthy, and full of character. But Sympathy for Delicious actually makes its DJ-as-healer premise seem completely plausible and several scenes featuring the healing are actually quite transcendent (during one concert scene, I believed, for a moment, that this healing might actually be possible). Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly well-defined, which makes it difficult to care about their fates. Juliette Lewis’s Ariel suffers particularly in this area, as her character arc left me totally cold. But the relationship between Thornton and Ruffalo also feels like a huge waste of potential. There’s an opportunity for a really interesting film about how human nature corrupts religion, or about the stifling power of religion over genuine, real-life miracles. While many of these themes are brought up, the film’s message ends up confused and jumbled.

Stylishly filmed and featuring some powerful performances, Sympathy for Delicious nevertheless fails to deliver on its promise. I’m a huge fan of Mark Ruffalo and I wish him the best in the future, but those hoping for an auspicious directorial debut with a sound grasp of storytelling won’t find too much to latch onto here.

After the movie, Devin Faraci from CHUD and Brandon Tenney from Firstshowing each fired up our cameras and filmed ourselves doing a video blog about the film. Note that the following contains some spoilers that I don’t think will impact your enjoyment of the film.

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