The Details Jacob Aaron Estes

The Details Jacob Aaron Estes
7
Perhaps knowing that deconstructing the artifice and purported serenity of the middle-class suburban lifestyle—a world of block parties, neighbourhood watches, street hockey games, perpetual gossip and petty one-upmanship—is, at least in this present time, a cinematic moot point, Mean Creek director Jacob Aaron Estes has opted to instead assess morality and karma. His sophomore outing, The Details takes place amidst this deceptively idyllic world, opening with the laying of worm-infested sod in the back yard of Jeff Lang (Tobey Maguire), a young married doctor confronted with a litany of metaphors. The raccoons ripping apart his sod each night acts as a reminder of imperfections and the false presentation that his fake lawn represents. This is something that is evident in his marriage, which has hit a stagnant point where infidelity is almost a foregone conclusion. And while Jeff has yet to act on his desires, instead flirting with the idea of contracting a fun new STD from an online escort, it's a stoned romp with his married psychologist co-worker Rebecca (Kerry Washington) that sets his mostly performative and perfunctory life into a tailspin. Desperate to hide this from his wife (Elizabeth Banks) after Rebecca's husband (Ray Liotta) finds out and his crazy cat lady neighbour (Laura Linney) overhears, he further complicates his already murky moral lexicon, which he tries to compensate for by donating a kidney to an acquaintance (Dennis Haysbert). Understandably, Estes takes a dark, almost pitch black, comedy approach to this material. Criticizing the motivations for do-gooder behaviour, as well as the very nature of marital bliss as a superficial performance (not unlike redoing a lawn and poisoning raccoons to keep it looking perfect for the neighbours), he's ostensibly ripping apart and flipping the bird to the American dream, suggesting that it's all essentially bullshit. The alternate beginning and ending included with the DVD suggests that karma was a larger, more active, factor in the initial conception of The Details but the eventual modifications made to the final product, which imply that there is no omniscient force or guiding hand, has a nasty nihilistic streak appropriate for a movie that involves casual death and exceptionally cruel comedy. Estes struggles, in part with pacing and tone, trying to add some humanity and character complexity to what is really just an elaborate detailing of how people justify and cope with self-hatred, guilt and identity as an unnatural and insincere presentation. But these awkward transitions and the inherent weirdness of the format ultimately works for the rather spiteful, albeit exceptionally astute and true, observations made about human morality and rationale. While imperfect largely due to sheer ambition, the experience of watching this aggressive little comedy is like a swift punch in the stomach. (eOne)