I am very surprised at this. Let me tell you why.
I made a short film with some very dear friends two years ago. I think it’s trivial now, but as artists we planted seeds which today we continue to reference, albeit in much larger contexts. The original story involved two roommates and their platonic relationship. But it was merely a hanger for our brand of gags. Beneath these gags, we believed we were saying something about the hardships of communication in intimate relationships. The idea was that these two people were prevented to fall in love with each other because of their constant need to spoof cultural references. These references we got from the films, books, and art we were acquainted with. So every remark, every line of dialog, every action the characters undertook, was a ‘quote’ of some kind. We interpersed this story with our own ideas of what we thought would be something comical to film, such as a room full of ballons that left people breathless, or a bathroom that is renovated into a jungle by a plant-loving woman (and she sings lullabies to them). We annotated this concept of world-construction with torn pages from novels, and jigsaw puzzles in-the-making, hung on walls.
We all moved on. But that idea, the dreamworld/fantasyworld/wonderland as imagined truth and as channel for interacting with the world, is precisely what we have in this movie.
I supposed it’s deemed as ‘cute’. And if this didn’t have Depp doing what he does, then it might have not had any ‘depth’.
This kind of actor is rare. The kind you can follow and detect a strong center. A primordial drive infered by the projects they pick. Their screen presence is something, quite something. And it’s not because we follow them through gossip magazines or TV interviews. No, for example take Cruise, he always takes his roles seriously and plays them in that way–it’s dedication alright, but not necessarily intelligence.
But Depp is of a different breed, from the school of Brando, with whom he was good friends. The ability he has is to project a being, apart from the character he plays, a being that projects a concious understanding of what’s at stake in the story and also in the meta-story (the fact that he’s an actor you pay to go see). Brando was the avatar of this method and in the process changed film acting forever. It’s the creation of a layer that sits above, sideways, or beneath, the character in the story. Currently, we have some other players of the same type: Sean Penn and Phillip S. Hoffman (the only ones I can think of at the moment). Up and comers are: Mark Ruffalo, Saasgard (Peter), Pitt, and John Cusack, with a slew of ‘minor’ others. Some women too, Juliane Moore for instance. But I have to say DiCaprio and Norton are not on that list.
What’s special about watching these actors is the insight they communicate in the added layer. Each is unique, because it’s a personal intellectual commentary, an artistic commentary, very strong, but subtle because it’s acting. The commentary can be rich with stories like this one, stories that reference other films (here, Depp works in a video store and spends his time imitating old screen icons). It makes the thread much more complex, self-referential, and it is sewed in with precious and delicate hands. The handling can be sublime.
It is a wonderful thing to watch actors breathe and live such stories and in such a manner. It changes our dreams.
In the story, Julianne Moore plays an actress. Depp is a fan of her film, and they watch it together. How fun it must have been to shoot this scene.