August brings to mind a bright, worldly-wise teenager who didn’t quite pay enough attention in English class. It’s got something to say, something that’s even pretty interesting, but it doesn’t actually know how to express itself. In this specific case, that fact alone becomes part of the film’s statement, and if I could believe it were done purposefully, the film would instantly achieve brilliance. Unfortunately, it is far too obvious that no one involved in the film has that much self-awareness, nor the kind of genius it would take to deliver a film that was part of its own dialog. The story is about a dot com that goes public a few months before the bubble burst in August 2001, and the struggle to keep the company afloat when the money stops rolling in by the truckload. But, what the story is really about (in some emphasized sense) is the dot com generation, and the particular brand of pseudo-people spawned from within: a group instilled with the idea that knowing the right people, and being seen at the right places is somehow a job - worse, a group convinced that popularity is somehow a life.
Adam Scott plays Joshua, the brother who is the counter to our statement on the destruction of youth. He is the co-owner of the company who actually does something, and thinks your job is a place where you go and… do work. He has a wife and child, and he’s a lovable bit of everyman who struggles through his many obligations as best he can, and isn’t much interested in the glamorous that he actually has a right to. He plods along looking for all the world like Mr. Bean, and we are basically told in no uncertain terms that the movie hopes we identify with him.
Josh Hartnett plays Tom, the brother who theoretically knows how you leverage popularity itself into a multi-million dollar company without once making any manner of clear statement about what his company actually does. We follow him very closely on his path to self-implosion, and it quickly becomes obvious that his theory of working is deciding who you will give an interview, and his idea of what companies are meant to do is figure out how to get other companies to throw money at them. His is a character played very similar to what we might see from a sinking drug addict, and the film repeatedly calls us out, fearing that we identify with him instead.
The film has an interesting and relevant message built in there somewhere. We watch Tom perform in his own arrogant idiom, and then follow him home to his empty, sterile lack of substance. We see him parade through his office, dodging phone calls from those not worthy of his attention while the gaggle of Tom-wannabes that are the staff of his company poke idly at computers, because they too are convinced that once you declare yourself cool enough, the checks will roll in on their own. There are even several scenes with Josh and Tom’s parents, mostly because the idea is obligatory to the message. Of course, their parents are ex-hippies of some classification, and Rip Torn as the father can’t get past wondering what it is Tom does. This is not because he isn’t tech-savvy, but because he has actually been to their office, and seen the flurry of stagnation for himself.
In the end, August is simply bizarre in its inability to deliver its message. It gives us the cursory exposition in the first twenty minutes. Then, as though caught by the very lack of substance and depth it is trying criticize, it just says it again at us. We have a generation full of people who do not develop themselves beyond the simplest statements, can’t relate to other people, and who hope to get by on the least effort possible, the film tells us. But, it does so without developing itself, relating to the audience, or putting forth much real effort. The DVD is about as bare bones an affair as you're going to run into. Scene selection, Set up, and trailers for a few other films are all you're going to find. On the plus side, the quality is there. The film is often in dark rooms, and/or some inventive effort at capturing the mood of a conversation, and the crisp feel of the attempted blend is never lost. While this might be the perfect film to delve into its efforts with a few special features, particularly interviews, or a voice-track version of the movie, the viewer is again left disappointed.
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