Friday, April 20, 2012

Tribeca ’12: Death of a Superhero

Drawing evil vixens and costumed crime-fighters usually is not the best way of winning over high school girls. Unfortunately, Donald Clarke does not have long to figure that out. He is dying of leukemia, but has a few obvious teenager goals he would like to accomplish first in Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death of a Superhero (trailer here), which screens at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.

Clarke is an understandably angry young man. If he was not socially awkward before, his bald head leads him to retreat further into himself. His only satisfaction comes from his comic art and his escalating graffiti escapades. Hoping to improve his state of mind, his well meaning parents take him to Dr. Adrian King, an art therapist who specializes in helping terminally ill patients come to terms with their mortality. Shrewdly, King does not try too hard to win Clarke’s confidence, thereby establishing a level of comfort between them. About the same time, Clarke meets a rather cute and rebellious transfer student he might actually stand a chance with, if he is not distracted by stupid high school pettiness.

Periodically, interludes of Heavy Metal-style animation provide a glimpse inside Clarke’s head, depicting his alter-ego battling The Glove, a Doctor Doom-like villain symbolizing his illness, and enduring the torments of the shapely Nurse Worsey, who embodies all his pent-up angst. Frankly, they are cool enough to give Superhero a genre appeal such material would not ordinarily hold. However, the third act may seem familiar to some viewers, following almost precisely the same narrative path as Ian Barnes’ Oscar nominated 2009 short film Wish 143. Since Anthony McCarten adapted Superhero from his own 2006 novel, you can assume whatever you will.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster is convincingly bitter and troubled as Clarke, but he has some nice chemistry Aisling Loftus as his potential girlfriend. Taking a break from the motion-capture suits, Andy Serkis also demonstrates wise restraint as Dr. King, making this movie shrink exponentially easier to take than Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.

It is hard to imagine a dying teenager film that refrains from heart-tugging manipulation and Superhero is certainly no exception. Yet, the retro noir animation gives it a real edge. That unique look and several well tempered performances greatly help earn its inevitable big emotional crescendo. Surprisingly effective, Death of a Superhero screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival next Friday (4/27), Saturday (4/28), and Sunday (4/29), with a regular theatrical release soon to follow.