The heroine, out of a comic book by Daniel Clowes, is someone a critic could love. Not only a critic, rest assured. Fresh out of high school — or rather, jaded out of high school — she can produce an equal sneer for the wheelchair-bound valedictorian ("High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life") and for the hip-hopping black cheerleaders who follow. A tireless crapehanger, a walking crap detector, alienated, aloof, alert, aware, unaccepting, reacting, resisting, judging: Little Miss Raincloud. And yet the movie, directed discreetly if none too fluidly by the erstwhile documentarist Terry Zwigoff (most notably Crumb, profiling a real-life outsider, the underground cartoonist R. Crumb), never loses sight of the fact that she is still just a teenager; it never tries to puff her up into a self-worshipping Lara Croft cult figure, much less an all-knowing Susan Sontag arbiter of taste. (Is the band at the post-graduation bash almost so bad that it's good, or is it so bad that it goes way beyond good and back to bad again? How's a girl to know?) The focus of the episodic action is on her curious alliance with a fortyish bachelor and discophile, quiet and retiring, with slumped shoulders, a bad back, flat hair, no social life, and the face-pulling first name of Seymour (Steve Buscemi, surreptitiously brilliant in the part), whom she had come to know after answering his Personals ad as a practical joke. What he plainly has in common with the heroine, for all their outward disparity, is an acute awareness and unacceptance of the surrounding world: "I can't relate to ninety-nine percent of humanity." In addition to which, as a mark of his greater depth and maturity, he has an awareness and an unacceptance of himself as well: "Maybe I don't want to meet someone who shares my interests; I hate my interests." It's true that the movie, on behalf of its two principal outcasts, takes condescending aim at a lot of easy targets (the faux Fifties diner, the electric-guitar redneck "blues" band at the local bar, the "XXX" bookstore, and so on), but then again, there are so many beckoning targets in the world that some of them are bound to be easy. A tireless crapehanger can't be expected to let them pass without a sneer or a snipe. And it's a sizable accomplishment -- and compensation -- that the movie places so much weight on the importance of taste and temperament in the living of daily life, the forming of relationships, the getting through a day. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban. (2001) — Duncan Shepherd
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