I find it utterly amazing that a studio will release an independent film in less than a hundred theatres, yet still plop it on DVD shelves anywhere and everywhere. The United States of Leland only brought in about three hundred and fifty grand at the box office during its limited run in early April. With a little pimping behind it, it might have made a little bit more. It had a slew of names in the flick, more so than it’s widely released competitor Hellboy. So, why the low theatre count? Well in this case, it has nothing to do with flat out Hollywood politics. It’s because Paramount was smart and dumped this dreary dragging drama before anyone noticed it. Bravo.
The Notebook’s Ryan Gosling fronts this indie tale alongside several other decent actors. With an ensemble cast like this, one would think The United States of Leland would gain either some underground phenomenon or some critical merit. Sadly this is all wrong; despite its cast doing the best they can do, this film does nobody any good.
Leland P. Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling), son of acclaimed author Albert T. Fitzgerald (Kevin Spacey) is an eccentric quiet fellow with an interesting perspective on life in general. After a mentally challenged boy has been murdered, Leland is thrown into a juvenile detention center and forced to tell his story to prison tutor Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle). Pearl has only taken the job to cure his writer’s block and write about his favorite author’s kid. As Leland reflects on his time spent with ex-girlfriend Becky Pollard (Jena Malone) and her family, which included the challenged boy, each member of the Pollard family must try and find their own ways to grieve the loss. Becky slips back into her drug habits, Julie (Michelle Williams) sits in her room quiet all the time, and Allen Harris (Chris Klein), the orphaned boy living with the Pollards, has to figure out how he fits into all of this. Leland is the one thread that sews everybody all together at their best times, and at their worst times. But will Pearl’s book unlock the mystery behind what makes Leland tick, or will it all come to a tragic end? Only fate will decide.
Like I said, the ensemble cast tries their best to save this movie, especially Don Cheadle. He does a great job as Pearl. He is the middleman in all of this, representing the audience in a way. Ryan Gosling continues to do great work with what he’s given. With every role he gets he does great work. Here, the only thing that kills his performance is his constant lost puppy-dog face. As much as it does induce pity, it just comes off as over the top. Jena Malone just has to stop being the gratuitous indie girlfriend with problems. After The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys, Life As A House, Donnie Darko, and this year’s Saved you would think she’d get some commercial work other then a cameo in Cold Mountain. Kevin Spacey...lets just say it’s obvious he never spent longer than half a week on set. Overall they do decent jobs, but they can’t stop the ship from sinking.
Writer/Director Matthew Ryan Hoge had all the right ingredients to throw together a nice little flick that could have been very good. The problem is the end result seems forced and the story drags. The entire film is awkward - not awkward in that indie “awkward is cool” way, but more like the “seeing your grandma come out of the shower nude then having to sit down and eat lunch with her” kind of awkward. . Luckily this is Hoge’s second film, and come number three he’ll be able to throw together something with more weight to it than this.
Basically this film just plain isn’t good. On paper it could have been a classic. Though sadly it just doesn’t bode well at all. The plot is shaky, the editing is jumpy, the director tried too hard, and the performances barely make it even watchable. I wished this would have been a lot better, but sadly it’s not.
The United States of Leland is an hour and forty-four minutes of wasted potential. It’s an extremely disappointing flick that makes you feel even more disappointed when it is over. Don’t even bother checking this one out. Instead, go rent something more cheerful and uplifting...like The Passion of the Christ.
Unless independent films create a huge buzz behind them, make a ton of money, or gain a cult following rarely will they have any special features on the DVD. This film is no exception.
Much like its previous indie DVD release, The Reckoning, Paramount decided to throw this flick on every DVD shelf in America without any goodies whatsoever. Usually this is where I flip out or express my dissatisfaction at the lack of extras on a disc. Well not here. Any commentary or featurette would make me even more disappointed about this film. If I had to watch the cast blab about working with one another or with the director, or if I had to listen to commentary by Matthew Ryan Hoge where he’d no doubt spend all the time sucking up to producer Kevin Spacey, I would explode. In the case of this DVD, no extras are a good thing.
Sometimes bad movies get two-disc special editions, unrated director’s cuts, or “extended” versions on DVD. Thankfully, the folks at Paramount Home Video were wise. They opted NOT to pledge allegiance to The United States of Leland. It’s one movie, under Hoge, incorrigible, with no levity and does no justice...for all.