DIFF Review: The Discoverers


Director:Justin Schwarz

Cast:Griffin Dunne, Madeline Martin, Devon Graye, Stuart Margolin, Cara Buono

Running Time:104.00


Despite boasting a great cast of character actors, The Discoverers feels derivative of every quirky indie dramedy you've ever seen. The alternate title could have easily been The Descendants of Little Miss Sunshine Go to Moonrise Kingdom. No, that's not a compliment.

Griffin Dunne plays Lewis, one of those frustrated guys whose work is unfulfilling. His wife has left him and his kids don't understand him. But a difficult situation might just bring them closer together. Yes, it's all very heartwarming, but it's been done so many times, any emotional impact we're supposed to feel has been dulled so far down it doesn't even register.

That difficult situation is the death of his mother, an untimely event that derails his plans to attend a literary conference to try to find a job at an elite university and get his life's work, a historical text on Lewis and Clark's slave York. Is he going to eventually realize that none of this matters, so long as his kids still love him? Gosh, I'm just not sure.

To complicate things, his dad Stanley has gone into a somewhat vegetative state. He won't talk or respond, but he will go on his planned Lewis and Clark re-enactors trip. Because the doctor has urged routine for Stanley, Lewis decides to stick around and go on the trip, not taking into account that his presence has never been part of the routine. He resents his dad for reasons that are never illuminated. 

Piling on the quirk, the Lewis and Clark re-enactment means no electronics, no modern slang and strict religious rules. It gets a little irritating, especially because every few seconds Lewis or one of his kids will say, "To hell with this," and go off on their own or whip out their clandestine iPod.

I really liked the cast, especially Madeline Martin, who gets a lot more to do here than on her 18 seasons of Californication. (Really? It's only been five? Are you sure.) Unfortunately, she tends to come across as a Juno clone. Still, I will never forget the scene where she tries to comfort her dad in the bathroom of their motel as he struggles to write a eulogy. "Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just the tumbleweed of pubes over there, but I don't think we should be sitting here." She effectively uses humor to diffuse a sad situation. But she's the only one.   

The eventual emotional resolution between Lewis and his father never feels earned, because we never get to the root of the hurt. With a game cast, there was plenty of potential for some resonance or at least a reason to exist. Like his seeming hero Wes Anderson, writer-director Justin Schwarz has gotten the meticulous detail down pat. Unfortunately, he forgot Anderson's foundation of heart. 


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

Leave a Reply