Getting To Know You

on June 28, 2000 by Ray Greene
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   A solid and in several ways ingenious adaptation of several dark short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, "Getting to Know You" circumvents some of the major pitfalls of fiction-to-film transferals by imposing a clever wraparound over-narrative onto a disconnected look at disaffected lives. Though not exactly an unqualified success, director Lisanne Skyler has fashioned a solemn but dramatically impactful look at the dysfunction and chaos which often afflict everyday people.
   In a bus station, siblings Judith and Wesley (Heather Matarazzo and Zach Braff) meet the motor-mouthed Jimmy (Michael Weston), a voyeuristic teenager who seems to know more than he should about everyone else's lives. Jimmy develops a crush on Judith, and fabricates yarns to impress her. The stories he tells have dark, often tragic events at their centers, which encourages Heather to open up about the domestic problems and disappointments of her own young life.
   Boiled down to a synopsis, "Getting to Know You" probably doesn't sound like much. But Skyler's deliberative pace and coldly clinical eye for staging accumulate a kind of dry-eyed strength as her carefully integrated storylines converge. Cast-wise, "Getting to Know You" is a sort of indie old home week. In addition to Matarazzo (star of "Welcome to the Dollhouse" a few years back, and a blessedly naturalistic talent here again), recognizable faces such as Jacob Reynolds of "Gummo" and Soja Sohn of last year's Sundance trophy taker "Slam" flesh out the ensemble.
   Like the Oates' stories it draws on, "Getting to Know You" is both sharp and subtle, and may be an acquired taste for some. But moviegoers willing to patronize a film that successfully takes a self-consciously artful approach to atypical material should find getting to know this modest little movie worthwhile. Starring Heather Matarazzo, Michael Weston and Bebe Neuwirth. Directed by Lisanne Skyler. Written by Lisanne Skyler and Tristine Skyler. Produced by George Lavoo and Laura Gabbert. Drama. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 94 min
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