Sundance Review: ‘Brief Interviews With Hideous Men’

It’s not every day that you get to watch a film about betrayal, carnal desire and the supposed intrinsic nature of men to think below the waist — all at 8:30 in the morning. But on Tuesday, as the rest of the world tuned in to see a new president take the oath, myself and a half-asleep Sundance crowd shuffled into the Racquet Club theater to see John Krasinski’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”

By the end of the film, I considered my admission price of sleep and historical perspective well worth it.

Obviously, most people know Krasinski for his work on “The Office,” and your first thought as you watch “Interviews” is that he’s a looooong way from Jim Halpert. But while this pensive, somewhat nihilistic “In the Company of Men”-like exploration into the darker aspects of the male mind will undoubtedly scare away some segment of his core audience, fans of the NBC show aren’t your typical shiny happy sitcom lovers. For those who simply enjoy smart entertainment — and are daring enough to consider great achievements in highly-varied genres — “Office” and “Interviews” will seem on the same level.

Adapting David Foster Wallace’s 1999 collection of short stories, Krasinski proves himself to be a talented writer/director. Adding in a character named Sara (played perfectly by Julianne Nicholson), the film version has the graduate student attempting to find the reasons behind her recent dumping by talking to various men about their sexual taboos, formative experiences, and reasons for behaving badly.

When “Interviews” is finished with you, what you’ll remember are the stories that touch you most. Some are funny, others sad — and a few simply don’t work. But the most impressive thing about Krasinski’s direction is his self-assured ability to know when it’s time to mix in visual elements, and when it’s best to simply point a camera at a good storyteller and let the actor speak.

My personal favorites? One man speaks of being ashamed of his father — a lowly bathroom attendant — while we see a younger version of the father taking great pride handing towels to the privileged, tending to their needs as if he’s a maitre d’ at a fine hotel. Another standout has “Law & Order” star Christopher Meloni sharing a coffee with a friend and telling a story about a woman he picked up at the airport — as he, his friend and the coffee cups keep popping up in the background of the story, looking on at this large-breasted babe like Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Other interviews — like Will Forte’s laundry list of what he loves about women, and Michael Cerveris’ tale of dealing with his father’s rage — aren’t quite as memorable. When you find yourself stuck watching one of the less-compelling interviews, the film can drag a bit — and the soundtrack doesn’t help as it makes you feel like you’re trapped in the bohemian coffee shop from hell, with Maynard G. Krebs working the bongos.

Glimpsed briefly but mentioned throughout the film, Krasinski finally shows up on-camera for the film’s big finale: A powerful scene that has him explaining his reasons to Nicholson for dumping her. In a film full of a-holes, the charismatic actor has no problem casting himself as the king of the scumbags. All we can do is admire Krasinski’s skill with the complicated monologue, marvel over his impressive filmmaking debut — and hope that sweet Pam Beesly has enough sense to stay far, far away from this guy.