After her boyfriend dumps her without really telling her why, Sara Quinn embarks on a project through her job as a doctoral candidate in anthropology at an East Coast university to explore the effects of the feminist movement from the male perspective. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a dark comedy that blends Quinn’s interviews with flashbacks from the life she had when she was happy and in love, and the life she’s living now, post-relationship.
Directed by John Krasinski (The Office’s Jim Halpert), the story follows Quinn as she sits with the men who are willing to talk about their relationship issues. One man admits to blurting out, “Victory to the Forces of Democratic Freedom” whenever he has an orgasm and discusses how this has had a negative effect on every sexual relationship he’s ever had, understandably so. Or there’s an amputee who talks about how he uses his missing arm to get women to sleep with him.
While Quinn is hard at work trying to understand the male perspective, it seems she’s surrounded by men who treat women like objects. Will Arnett’s character spends the entirety of the few brief scenes he’s in standing outside Quinn’s neighbor’s apartment talking to her through the door, trying to convince her not to dump him. Quinn’s professor at the university admits to marrying his wife because she had a kid and still looked good post-pregnancy, thus alleviating his fears that she’d lose her looks if she had a baby.
John Krasinski plays Quinn’s ex-boyfriend. He’s barely around in the film, which is fitting as he’s no longer a part of her life, though at the end of the movie we do get to see him confess his reasons for cheating on her and inevitably leaving her. Krasinski handles the scene well but dialogue seems too speechy for natural conversation. I have to wonder if Krasinski pulled the speech word for word from David Foster Wallace’s book when he did the screenplay. The story he tells is good and Krasinski’s performance is powerful enough, but because the writing sounds a little too scripted, it’s hard to really get into it.
Other times the film, while emotionally moving, simply doesn’t make sense. Quinn interviews a man whose father was a bathroom attendant at a ritzy hotel. The man relays what his father did for a living while we see the scene reenacted for us and we’re given the opportunity to see how this man’s job affected his son’s perspective of him, while at the same time, getting some insight into why the man did the job to the best of his ability for so many years. The story is touching but I wasn’t sure how it fit into the overall plot, which centers almost entirely on relationships, love and sex. Hideous Men also touches on the subject of rape and how it can affect a woman’s life afterwards. Again, while this arc is moving and touches on some really insightful ideas, it’s hard to fully grasp how it relates to what Quinn is going through.
As the story progresses, we come to see how Quinn’s thinking on men and relationships is altered as she conducts the interviews and revisits some of the memories she has of her relationship with her boyfriend. Julianne Nicholson portrays the role if Sara Quinn with a sort of quiet curiosity that at times borders on indifference, almost as though she’s already made up her mind about how she feels and is really just going through the motions in an attempt to prove herself right. In that sense, Hideous Men is a bit sad but the humor from the interviews, much of which can be credited not only to the cleverness of the male interviewee’s monologues but also great comedic actors like Will Arnett and Bobby Cannavale for delivering humorously candid performances in their respective roles as stereotypical bad-boyfriend types.
I’m not sure there’s a strong enough resolution here to justify where we’re taken or what Quinn’s trying to accomplish, but the film has laughs and it keeps moving at a quick pace. Maybe that’s enough.