There’s something inherently hilarious yet very spooky about a person who makes their living as a ventriloquist, especially someone who decides to use a life-like wooden dummy with human features. DUMMY, starring Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody of THE PIANIST, often milks this schizophrenic quality for all its worth, even though it decidedly favors the comical undertones of its subject matter.
Brody plays 28-year-old Steven Schoichet, a white collar Jewish worker still living with his parents in New York who suddenly quits his job to pursue his desire to become a ventriloquist. His Jewish parents take all this in stride. His mom doesn’t bat an eye, continually thrusting food in his face or yelling at him if he’d like a sandwich while he practices with his dummy. His retired father, meanwhile, is self-absorbed in building scale models of battleships. Only his sister Heidi, a wedding planner, finds Steven’s fascination with ventriloquism disturbed and creepy. Later, the movie reveals that Heidi’s desires to be a professional singer were squashed by their mother, who undermined Heidi’s desires, calling them unrealistic.
Steven gets help from a pretty unemployment bureaucrat, Lorena. She finds Steven a manager and his first ventriloquist job, in front of a small group of shut-in senior citizens. Steven’s friend from high school, a crazy, foul-mouthed punk rocker named Fanny, pushes Steven out of his shell. He begins a tentative relationship with Lorena, who happens to be the mother of a cute little girl, whose father got killed before Lorena and he could marry. Both Lorena and her daughter are charmed by Steven and his growing rapport with his nameless dummy. Steven, it turns out, actually has a fine-tuned sense of humor that gets stronger as the movie goes along.
When Heidi tells Steven’s friend Fanny that the Jewish wedding she’s planning requires a Yiddish klezmer band, Fanny jumps at the chance for a gig and begins intensely studying the jazzy, frenetic style of music with her band. Meanwhile, Lorena is having second thoughts about her growing relationship with Steven. Everything comes to a funny climax at the wedding, when Heidi’s mildly psychotic ex-boyfriend shows up, trying to win her back.
It’s the cast that makes this movie, especially Brody as Steven, Illeana Douglas as Heidi, and Milla Jovovich as Fanny. Brody is endearing, slightly creepy, and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. Douglas puts so much zeal into her performance that it’s very easy to believe that Heidi and Steven are brother and sister. Jovovich, despite the gratuitous foul language of her character, is a revelation of kookiness. Her transformation into a moody klezmer singer is fantastic. The rest of the cast is also excellent, including Jessica Walter, who gives an exceptional performance as Heidi and Steven’s irritating mother.
Writer and director Greg Pritikin blends all these quirky performances into a convincing whole. He astutely allows Steven and Heidi to develop a warm respect for one another eventually, despite their differences. It’s that respect that plays a key role at the end of the movie, leading to good, positive feelings all around. Steven and Heidi are honorable, likeable people.
Although there’s a brief reference to Steven’s dad watching a porno flick and a joke that Steven looks like a child molester with his little dummy, there’s no other sexual content and no sexual nudity in DUMMY. There is, however, lots of strong foul language coming from Steven’s kooky friend Fanny. Finally, the movie’s worldview is Romantic, in that it tells viewers that it’s best to follow the desires of one’s heart, even when other people ridicule those desires. The desires here are all oriented around one’s personal career, however, rather than any higher, more worthy cause.
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SUMMARY: In DUMMY, Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody plays a nerdy 28-year-old Jewish man in New York, who quits his job in pursuit of a lifelong dream to be a ventriloquist. DUMMY contains many very funny situations and kooky, endearing characters, but it also has a lot of strong foul language, a couple sexual references, and is set in a secular Jewish environment with only a few clear-cut, positive moral elements.
(Ro, B, LLL, V, S, N, A, D, M) Romantic follow-your-dreams worldview with some moral elements, including a growing, positive bond between two siblings; about 66 mostly strong obscenities, seven strong profanities, and six light profanities; some comical violence including struggle over a gun and brief fighting; retired father watches obscured pornography on TV and a reference to a ventriloquist looking like a child molester; upper naturalistic male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, two dysfunctional families, vandalism, stalking, and mention of the ethnic stereotype of the Jewish American Princess or JAP.
GENRE: Romantic Comedy