Happy Here And Now

After a pair of great documentaries about the creative process (THIS SO-CALLED DISASTER, WILLIAM EGGLESTON IN THE REAL WORLD), Michael Almereyda returns to fiction filmmaking with a philosophically ambitious, sci-fi-tinged fable. Sixteen-year-old Amelia (Liane Balaban) comes to New Orleans looking for her sister, Muriel (Shalom Harlow), who appears to have...read more

Reviewed by Ken Fox
Rating:

After a pair of great documentaries about the creative process (THIS SO-CALLED DISASTER, WILLIAM EGGLESTON IN THE REAL WORLD), Michael Almereyda returns to fiction filmmaking with a philosophically ambitious, sci-fi-tinged fable. Sixteen-year-old Amelia (Liane Balaban) comes to New Orleans looking for her sister, Muriel (Shalom Harlow), who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth. Their flaky aunt, Lois (Ally Sheedy), assures her that Muriel was always a spiritual seeker, and has probably just wandered down to Mexico. But after speaking to Muriel's roommates (Isabel Gillies, Nic Ratner), who tell her Muriel had been avoiding human contact and spent most of her time alone in her room on her computer, Amelia begins to worry. Her fears are heightened after Lois' neighbor, former CIA agent Bill (Clarence Williams III), examines Muriel's computer and says someone has wiped the hard drive. He's nevertheless able to recover fragments of a streaming-video encounter Muriel had with someone called Eddie Mars, who seduces her with his cigarette, cowboy hat, sexy New Orleans drawl and thoughts on scientific visionary Nikola Tesla. In order to help Bill trace the transmission, Amelia goes online and introduces herself to Eddie Mars as Muriel. Making the masquerade complete, Bill hooks Amelia up to a device that enables users to assume a digital avatar that masks the user's true physical identities. But Eddie Mars, who's been giving "Muriel" a seductive spiel on the 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal, is using the same technology. He's really just plain old Eddie (David Arquette), a local exterminator who hopes to make an Internet movie about Tesla and has been using the image of his better-looking brother, firefighter Tom (Karl Geary), to connect with people online. When the frustrated Amelia finally suggests meeting at the Café du Monde for an honest, face-to-face encounter, Eddie poses the eternal philosophical question that lies at the heart of this thought-provoking mystery: Would an in-the-flesh meet-and-greet be any more "real" than the meeting of minds they've already shared? There's a not quite fully baked subplot involving Tom's attempts to connect with the widow (Gloria Reuben) of a fallen firefighter, and even if you're not quite down with Almereyda's digital-age existentialism, he has impeccable taste in music. The soundtrack includes great songs by Andre Williams and Shirley Ellis, and music by local R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and electronic organ freakazoid Quintron, who both appear in the film. The location shooting offers a poignant portrait of New Orleans' thriving pre-Hurricane Katrina counterculture.

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