In Which There’s Family Circus, Bottom Right Corner, Waiting to Suck
I feel that I must confess that I have been derelict in my duties. In the nearly full year of covering films from mostly the 90’s I have sorta elided one of the cornerstones of not only movie making, but the culture at large. I’ve glanced off of it here and there, but never tackled properly. I have never properly tackled the monumental influence of Quenten Tarantino. This decision mostly derives from the fact that every website spent almost the entire past year dissecting his work in honor of his new movie and the anniversaries of others, but his thumbprints influenced the landscapes of 90’s pop in a manner as great or greater than anything else.
And you can’t really talk about 1999’s Go without talking about Tarantino. It’s certainly unfair to Doug Liman’s rave thriller to constantly compare and contrast it with the master of violence and crassness. But Go lives and dies by the gospel of Tarantino: with its scuzzy drug deals, sudden violence, knowing dialog, and jumbled up continuity. However, Go distinguishes itself not just from its antecedents, but also its contemporary coat tail riders through sheer force of will. It can be called Tarantino lite because it has the audacity to eschew the mordant cynicism and nihilism of his films, for all it’s post-modern trickery Go resolutely stands as film that just wants to be fun.
It might be the Christmas setting that does it, but Go is a film of good cheer. A series of interconnected tales that have the tone and texture of a yarn a sufficiently egg-nogged cousin would spin late into a holiday party. The films is split into three tales: the first follows Ronna (Sarah Polly) as she attempts to scrounge up rent money by selling ecstasy surreptitiously obtained from the hot and slimy dealer Todd Gaines (Timothy Olyphant), the second follows Simon (Desmond Askew) as he bumbles around Las Vegas with his buddy Marcus (Taye Diggs), the third deals with actors Adam and Zack (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) as they try to narc on Ronna and sort out their romantic relationship with each other.The whole thing twirls around a central mega rave, complete with thumping house music and acid searing visuals. All the characters ping-pong around the plot only to end back where they began, perhaps in worse state physically, but with a hell of a tale to tell.
Like Tarantino the film is especially tuned to its music, but this is where the tonality of the two split. Where Tarantino honed in on the junk of the past Go is bracingly of its moment: hoovering up the sights and sounds of the late 90’s without a care to how things would age. This gives Go the condition of cultural amber, solidifying the aesthetics and principles of cool in a fashion that could never last as the arbiter of taste, but stands totemic as an artifact of a bygone era.
This feeling is caught into the movie from the very first frame, before the Columbia logo even has a chance to fade it’s jaggedly cut away to the throbbing house beats and blown out colors of a rave. The movie is eager to get started, and it’s propulsive title revels in the fact that this party could have been happening even early despite the necessity of studios. This energy bounces through the rest of the film, with Liman creating loping and pushing images, screenwriter John August providing goofy patter, and editor Stephen Mirrione mashing these things together like a hyped-up DJ.
What saves this from being a more than style exercise is the surprising specificity the filmmakers are able to imbue in their characters that seem to be set up a cast of 90’s archetypes. Todd is the perfect example, played as the slick looking criminal type from Olyphant he could quickly drown into parody. But his combo of lackadaisical and overly paranoid create a friction that adds texture and nervy energy to his performance. Yes there’s him shirtless in the Santa hat (a move that disarms him a way that make his presence scarier), but also the fact that he doesn’t want to follow up on Ronna’s hit and run. He’s a guy who’s willing to carry a gun, but would prefer to turn tail when things get too hot.
This generosity of quirks and oddities are extended to most of the cast. Wolf and Mohr have a blast as a bickering couple who are working through their relationship as they try to maneuver out from under the police. Ronna feels realistically desperate and listless, getting the slightest sense of satisfaction out of tricking people at the rave before it all come crashing down. The only place this doesn’t really hold is Simon’s story, which is too episodic and broad to be fully enjoyable, but Liman keeps things looking sharp to carry the interest to the other side.
The off kilter textures are perfectly encapsulated by the Christmas time setting. It allows the world to flitter with lights and costume and morph the landscapes of LA into pieces of art decorated quasi-raves all on their own. It also lets the film be filled with good feelings, because despite the violence and sudden swerves in narrative nobody dies. Instead a bad headache, a limp, and probably a broken arm will be the extent of the damage. It’s all in good fun when you’re preparing for the holidays. And so the film’s opening lines about being surprised by a presents ring especially true. This is a Tarantino shaped box that has something completely different and utterly delightful inside.
Odds and Ends
- The cast is just stuffed with up and coming famous people and character actors. With the people already mentioned we have William Fichtner, Katie Holmes, Jane Krakowski, and a very young Melissa McCarthy all popping in at various points.
- Simon’s section feels a bit like a riff on the British crime films of the time, like Liman trying to sneak some love for Danny Boyle into the proceedings.
- Liman is one of the strangest directors in mainstream Hollywood, after doing his work in the indie trenches with Swingers and Go he completely revolutionizes movie action with The Bourne Identity. He then spends a decade in the wilderness before producing the deliriously fun Edge of Tomorrow, strange career that one.
- Besides New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum tweeting that Go is a good Christmas movie, has this survived at all in the cultural discourse? Really feels like it hasn’t.
Next week I’m taking off for the Holidays, but I will return on the 8th with a dive into Wim Wenders’ recently restored sci-fi epic Until the End of the World. It will be streaming on The Criterion Channel in January so make sure to check it out.