by Hope Madden
A bruised, muscular romanticism – a nostalgia for a hipper, more rebellious and gorgeous reality – informs Jake Hoffman’s Asthma.
The beautifully damaged Gus (Benedict Samuel) can’t claim a place in the generic uniformity of the modern world. He longs for the grittier and richer reality he believes came and went before his time. So he steals a Rolls, picks up the girl he admires, and attempts the kind of tragically restless road trip you might find in a Godard film.
All of which would feel precious were it not for erratic but solid performances, and a revelation that unveils Gus as the poseur we knew he was. Surprisingly, Hoffman and Samuel are able to mine that late-film revelation to connect the lead with the ordinary Joe in the audience, and still make his troubles resonate because of the genuine pain in the performance.
For all the film’s showy quirks – Nick Nolte, for instance, is the voice of Gus’s Guardian Angel/Wolfman – Hoffman’s abrupt manner with both camera and soundtrack keep things from feeling frivolous or pretentious.
The slew of peculiar folk Gus meets along his journey nearly chokes any hint of authenticity from Asthma, although the great (and appropriate) Iggy Pop is like a needed and timely punch in the gut to a film just about to topple over with its own quirkiness.
For a hyper-masculine road-type-picture, Asthma boasts a surprisingly nuanced female lead. Yes, Krysten Ritter’s Ruby looks like the typical off-beat beauty, and her character is certainly the right combination of naughty and nice to fit the bill, but Ritter never lets the character off too easy. She makes poor decisions, kicks herself for them, hardens, and moves on – all with a grace that feels of this time and of another.
There’s an addiction theme that threatens to hold the film together, give it purpose and drive, but often feels like the least authentic piece of the movie. Without it, though, Asthma too often comes off as a nostalgic riff on another era’s nostalgic riffs.
Hoffman’s a confident first time filmmaker with a product that is great to look if purposeless – kind of like Gus.