There’s a certain masochistic enjoyment to be gleaned from watching The Guitar during our current economic meltdown. An indie version of Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday, Amy Redford’s directorial debut tells the story of the emotionally dead Melody (Saffron Burrows), a woman told she has two months to live just a few hours before being fired from her job. Dropping her keys on the floor and leaving her apartment door open, Melody goes on an immense shopping spree, starting with a spacious loft.
Armed only with a promotional, banana-shaped phone from the phone company and a handful of catalogs, Melody begins to systematically destroy her credit. Apparently, all she wanted when she was growing up poor was a cherry-red electric guitar, and now she has all the impetus in the world to make her materialistic dreams come true—along with a reason to give up being a vegetarian and dabble in bisexuality.
But of course, things can’t fill the void, as pretty as those Jonathan Adler vases and Vera Wang king-sized beds are. And despite her best efforts, Melody finds herself attracting two very different delivery people: Roscoe (Isaach De Bankolé) and pizza delivery girl Cookie (Paz de la Huerta). Going with the moment, Melody happily fulfills whatever role they create for her in their lives, from an alternative to trying for a child to a last stab at adventure before marriage.
Happiness is never really an option for Melody, though, with that death sentence hanging over her head. And despite its art-house leanings, Amos Poe’s script chooses to take the easy way out of Melody’s situation. Perhaps her ultimate fate would feel less manipulative (though Poe claims the film is based on a true story) if the film’s last quarter didn’t feel so rushed. After spending 45 of the movie’s 95 minutes in an orgy of consumerism, The Guitar suddenly speeds up its tempo and begins bombarding us with plot developments.
Throughout, Saffron Burrows remains resolutely unglamorous, but she’s never quite alive. Whether it’s the role as written or whether she couldn’t quite get under the skin of a woman who has no friends, Burrows projects a distance that never allows us to fully embrace Melody; though watching Melody blithely charging a fortune on her credit cards certainly does nothing to endear her to us. So good at playing the glamorous, dangerous woman in other films (including The Bank Job earlier this year), Burrows seems to be at a loss with the one-note Melody. Her best moments are silent, when Melody simply stands and plays that long-lusted-for guitar, lank hair hanging around her shoulders while she closes her eyes and simply strums.
And though De Bankole and de la Huerta are both good in their peripheral roles, their initial attraction to Melody remains hazy. Perhaps it’s simply the tragic aura surrounding her, or maybe they’re hoping for a sizeable tip. Either way, they at least get out while Melody remains believable as a woman facing death, Visa and MasterCard clutched firmly in hand. After they say their good-byes, The Guitar goes flat.
Directed by Amy Redford, At Landmark Sunshine; Running Time: 95 min.
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