Good Dick

2008-10-17 (Limited release)

I’ll take what I can get.

— Video Store Clerk (Jason Ritter)

Late in Good Dick, an elderly customer approaches the counter in a Los Angeles video store. Sweet, sad, and apparently a regular at the store — which serves as the film’s central location for men’s talk among themselves, since all the workers are men — Charlie (Charles Durning) addresses the young men behind the counter, who greet him faux- warmly, as if they’re glad to see him. “Are you boys in love?” he asks, part doddering, part wise. His listeners look away, seeking forms to fill out or dvds to check in. “Fall in love quick,” Charlie advises. “With a girl or a boy. Find someone.” One of the kids nods, “That’s great advice, sir, thank you.”

Come to find out that Charlie’s in the store to pick up an “anniversary” dvd, one that his loved one, now gone, loved. The boys’ predictable display of disrespect underscores the obvious point of Charlie’s actual wisdom. One unnamed clerk (Jason Ritter) does take his words to heart, and has been pursuing his own version of falling in love throughout the film.

A pitiable sort of fellow — he’s living in his car, as his apartment building has been demolished — the clerk is unable to engage with his fellow clerks’ conversation (“You guys been watching Charlie Rose? We are changing what it means to be human!”). And so he’s found a distraction in an unnamed young woman (writer-director Marianna Palka), who comes into the store in order to rent bad ’80s girl-focused porn in order to masturbate alone in her apartment. Though the film doesn’t reveal exactly what she watches, the general idea is clear: the damaged girl defines “good dick” as soft or absent dick, with the corollary (bad dick is hard and penetrating) left unspoken. Just how this obvious trauma victim came to feel this way becomes clear in the movie’s ridiculous and reductive finale, but until then, she appears hollow-eyed and gloomy, reluctant to speak sentences to the clerks and so, of course, an object of their derision.

The boy takes a liking to her, looks up her address in the store’s computer, and begins to stalk her. Though Good Dick translates his behavior as respectful, even tender, desire, the plot trajectory — he shows up at her apartment window to watch her masturbate, then knocks on her door, lying that he has a great aunt in the building — gives pause. He brings the girl a dvd (“I’m really great at picking out films for people,” he says, “It’s a gift that I have”), asks her out a few times (“No,” she asserts, “Don’t ask me again. It’s a waste of time to keep asking me”), and finally gets inside when he tells her the fake great aunt has died and he’s in need of comforting.

In another movie, the boy would be a serial killer. In the pseudo-twisting of conventions offered by good Dick, he’s only in pain. Insinuating himself as a nightly guest who cooks dinner and provides entertainment (one of his erotica choices, an Annie Sprinkle film, turns out to be “just, like, gynecological” and so, disturbing), the boy is cast as just the sort of dedicated suitor the girl needs in order to feel healed. Their different injuries are connected in their different interests in sex — he does, after all, want to have it, and keeps pressing his case, suggesting his penis matches the size of one of the film actors, then apologizing profusely when, during a brief experiment in bed, he gets hard (i.e., bad). “I couldn’t help it!” he protests, “I wasn’t going to do anything with it, you’re beautiful!” She insists he leave: “I can’t trust you now, you fuck.”

Their arguments tend to repeat the same point: both are “sexually deformed,” but they really, really do like each other, and, though she won’t admit it, they have fallen in love, just as Charlie has urged. It’s a familiar romance, in which seemingly mismatched misfits find solace and a kind of perfect harmony in each other, via an assortment of sappy-music montages. Given the focus on the woman’s dick issues, it’s worth noting that the film’s most engaging exchanges occur between the clerk and his fellow clerks. Derived obviously from the conversations in High Fidelity, these moments conjure relationships based on shared interests: movies with plots.

RATING 4 / 10