SXSW ’11: Girl Walks Into a Bar – Review


Experiment in direct web distribution proves successful

Girl Walks Into a Bar is like the start of a joke you’ve heard hundreds of times. “A girl walks into a bar and…” Then what? Well, that would all depend on the bar. All bars are not created equal, you know. Writer-director Sebastian Guiterrez explores this concept in his latest comedy, which includes interlocking stories with a wide assortment of characters and bar establishments. In the tradition of his earlier works, Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx, Guiterrez allows his imagination to run wild again. He flirts with noir, ups that with sharp, witty dialogue, and includes a special type of ping pong club where the players have to check in more than hats in the front room.

It all begins simple enough with a dentist (Zachary Quinto), Nick, meeting an undercover cop posing as a killer-for-hire (Carla Gugino), Francine Driver, at a bar. Puzzled by this attractive woman sitting opposite of him, Nick can’t comprehend when she tells him that she is an assassin. Because the killer went by the name of “Driver” Nick figures it to be a man. And therein lies the first of several suggestions of a misguided male; here we have a man who believes that if you are a hired killer you have to be someone who pees standing up. But as Francine clearly elucidates, most men don’t have the “ovaries” for contract work.

Nick and Francine reach an agreement on payment, which he promises he can get before night turns to dawn. With Nick out of the picture (for now) a young photographer named Henry (Aaron Tveit) charms Francine with a game of pool before stealing her wallet and running out into the jungle of Los Angeles. The wallet becomes a “MacGuffin” that Francine begins searching for, and during her journey we are introduced to characters that have a correlation to others in the story. The best supporting character may be that of Henry’s sister, Teresa (Emmanulle Chriqui), who has a scene-stealing moment that includes a voice-over narration at how perceptive she is with her body and of the men who frequent the strip bar where she works.

Girl Walks Into a Bar may be the start of a punch line you’ve already heard, but the joke may be on Hollywood and how it distributes film. If a produced film is lucky enough to get a distributor then a theatrical or home video release is likely to follow. While Girl Walks Into a Bar may have played at the ArcLight in Los Angeles or as an opening night selection of the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Tex., it was not intended to be seen in theater houses across the country. Sebastian Guiterrez had a clear idea that his follow-up to Elektra Luxx be the first film with notable stars to be created solely for Web distribution. Companies YouTube and Lexus partnered with Shangri-La Entertainment in making it happen. Setting a precedent in terms of distribution may not add brownie points to the film’s rating overall, but it would make one hell of a Trivial Pursuit question should we start to see more direct-to-Web films.

Nevertheless, Girl Walks Into a Bar isn’t without its faults. Some of the subplots – vignettes, really – don’t offer much to the story and reveal a lack of focus overall. But even with a sense of feeling incomplete, the comedy’s biggest redeeming quality is its dialogue. Sebastian Guiterrez may not be able to make a complete movie free of loose ends, but the man knows how to write concise banter that flows freely like a busted fire hydrant. The words come pouring out. Guiterrez is a writer that actors would want to chase after just to have the opportunity to read three or four pages of dialogue over drinks. And on the set of Girl Walks Into a Bar, too.

Director: Sebastian Guiterrez
Notable Cast: Carla Gugino, Zachary Quinto, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Robert Forster, Alexis Bledel
Writer(s): Sebastian Guiterrez

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