A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Sorry, Haters" is a film that begins in intrigue, develops in fascination and ends in a train wreck. It goes spectacularly wrong, and yet it contains such a gripping performance by Robin Wright Penn that it succeeds, in a way, despite itself. To see great work is a reason to see an imperfect movie, and to observe how the movie loses its way may be useful even if it's frustrating. My inclination was to give the film a negative star rating, but that would mean recommending you not see this performance by Penn, and that I am unwilling to do.
When I mention Penn, I must also mention Abdellatif Kechiche, who plays the movie's other leading role, and whose anguish is easy to identify with, even if we cannot believe where the plot takes him. He plays a New York cab driver, and she plays a woman who gets into his cab one night -- a woman who has been drinking, and clutches a child's toy. She has him drive out to New Jersey, so they can park across the street and she can look at what was her ex-husband, her child and their house. Her husband, she says, divorced her, married again, and got the house, custody, everything. Before they leave, she uses her keys to scratch the ex-husband's new car.
Everything about this woman, named Phoebe, feels real, including her mania bordering on madness. There is also the modulation of her gradually growing curiosity about the cab driver, named Ashade. We learn his story: He has a Ph.D. in chemistry in his native Syria. His brother has been a Canadian citizen for 10 years, and has a French-Canadian wife and a baby. The brother was stopped by U.S. officials on his way through LaGuardia, and is now a prisoner at Guantanamo. Appeals have failed, even though the brother (according to Ashade) is completely innocent. Phoebe, an executive for a cable TV company, decides that she would like to help them.
That, at any event, is the surface of the story, the setup. There is a lot more, but as much as I deplore how the movie develops, I will not reveal its secrets, because if you are going to see it you deserve to see it as I did -- going in knowing nothing, and coming out knowing everything and feeling admiration for Penn and something between dissatisfaction and anger for the film. I learn that the producers tried to tell its director, Jeff Stanzler, that his third act didn't work, but he pressed on. And what's the use of making a low-budget film on digital video if you can't make precisely the film you want to make? That's what the low budget buys you: freedom.