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Film review: Living in Oblivion

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 21 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

Oh, sure, I know what you're thinking — not another movie about making movies! You're right, we've had too many. And what's more, this one is about as inside as they get.

But before you throw up your hands and say, "Who cares?" understand that "Living in Oblivion" has one terrific saving grace: It's hilarious.

The distinctive character actor Steve Buscemi stars as independent filmmaker Nick Reve, who is trying very hard to create a low-budget effort that will qualify as art. But he is thwarted by the ineptness of his cast and crew as neuroses abound and egos run wild.

Admittedly, this day-in-the-life-of-a-frustrated-filmmaker is a one-joke premise. But that is ap-parently not lost on writer-director Tom DiCillo, whose previous failed feature, "Johnny Suede" (starring young, unknown Brad Pitt), no doubt provided plenty of fodder for the goings-on here.

In order to keep audience interest from waning, DiCillo has come up with a clever structural device. He focuses on Nick trying to film three specific scenes and then mixes them up with both reality and dream sequences. The technique keeps audience members off-balance, as an element of surprise constantly hovers.

The first third of the film centers around Nick's set-ups of a scene with his leading lady Nicole (Catherine Keener), in which her character is having a serious heart-to-heart discussion with her mother. All the silly things that keep a scene from being captured correctly the first time occur — an actor blows a line, the boom mike hovers too low and is picked up by the camera, a car drives by blasting rap music, etc. Then, when the scene is finally performed perfectly, they discover that the camera has not been recording it — the cinematographer (Dermot Mul-roney) is sick in the bathroom after eating bad catering food.

The next section has Nicole and leading man Chad Palomino (James LeGros, whose egotistical character is said to be patterned after Brad Pitt) trying to get a romantic scene right, followed by a spoof of "Twin Peaks," with Nicole in a wedding dress and a cranky dwarf questioning his character's motivation.

The cast is terrific and obviously having a great time. All the performances are good, but especially noteworthy are Keener, Buscemi and LeGros, each demonstrating grand comic talent.

Engaging and bright, witty and smart, "Living in Oblivion" is a riotous romp through the world of moviemaking, with emphasis on the helplessness one feels on a low-budget set when things go wrong.

And it is so funny, you needn't be a movie buff or aspiring filmmaker to appreciate the goings-on . . . though it would certainly help.

The film is rated R for profanity, brief nudity and mild violence.

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