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Sorry, Haters: Mark's Take

01/04/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy Sorry, Haters in the USA - or Buy Sorry, Haters in the UK

author pic

In this film, Mark discovers a woman, who for no apparent reason, twists people's thoughts and actions intentionally trying to cause a disaster. The idea could and previously has been done well, but here it makes for a thoroughly unpleasant film experience.

Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Richard Matheson wrote a short story, "The Distributor", about a man whose sole goal seemed to be to sow evil in a small American town. It was not for the distributor's benefit in any obvious way - it apparently was just something he did. The short story was very effective. Stephen King expanded the idea into the long-winded, over-inflated novel NEEDFUL THINGS. It was not as good as the Matheson story - not as succinct or potent - but it still had some power. Jeff Stanzler tells a similar story when he writes and directs SORRY, HATERS, taking the idea again and giving it a political context in post-9/11 America. The result is a muddled exercise into a sort of hatred pornography.

Central to the story is Phoebe, scarily played by Robin Wright Penn, a good actor who obviously took this role very seriously. Phoebe seems to be the host of a New York counter-culture radio show called "Sorry, Haters". But there is more illusion and self-delusion to Phoebe than there is reality. One night Phoebe hires a cab and thereby meets Arab driver Ashade (played by Abdellatif Kechiche).

The cab trip turns out to be to Englewood Cliffs where Phoebe spies on and harasses her ex-husband. Along the way she hears that Ashade has a brother incarcerated at Guantanamo who is being sent to Syria where he will probably be tortured and murdered. She offers to help Ashade by having her lawyers solve his problems. Ashade happily goes on and in the next few days Phoebe jerks him around and frustrates him, stoking the already smouldering fires of his anger and fear.

We never really know what is driving Phoebe except that she seems to have deep-seated psychological problems. Her favourite day in her recent history was September 11. This was one day when she thought that everybody in New York felt as helpless and agonized as she is every day of her life. So she hones and develops Ashade, making him into the weapon that will express her own anger. Her conversations with Ashade are solid bigotry as she vents her spleen against the world.

It is not clear what this is all about. Perhaps it is intended as a statement that America's enemies are entirely of America's making. If that is the case, it would need a better evidence than this fictional story. The film is shot on digital video, a new inexpensive medium that has the advantage that it is cheap enough that just about anybody can make a movie and the disadvantage that it is cheap enough that just about anybody can make a movie. The film is well acted by Penn as well as by Sandra Oh and Élodie Bouchez, who appear in supporting roles.

The low production values give the film a little more realism than it might otherwise have, if one can apply the word "realism" to a film like this. I just am not sure what Stanzler was trying to say. If he is saying that terrorism is actually caused by angry, white American female bigots who have real attitude problems, I have to say that was never my impression. If he is saying that Phoebe represents America creating its own enemies, I still think he is wrong, but that at least would be a message. Perhaps the film just does not bear thinking about.

I rate SORRY, HATERS a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2006

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