One look at Aaron Stanford’s chain-smoking, long-haired musician in a Hanes T-shirt and you know Flakes wants so badly to be hip. “I don’t wanna be just another guy with a PowerBook ‘making an album,’” Neal Downs (Stanford) says to his girlfriend Miss Pussy Katz (Zooey Deschanel) near the beginning of the film, but look closer and they seem about as authentic as Urban Outfitters mannequins: Neal spends his days managing a New Orleans cereal bar (a stand-in for High Fidelity‘s record store) where stoners debate breakfast-food history, and Pussy sells anti-Bush T-shirts at a flea market booth, a variation on Thora Birch’s too-cool-for-school cynicism in Ghost World. Inevitably, a capitalist upstart moves into the neighborhood and tries to steal business from Neal’s Flakes, straining his relationship with Pussy and echoing the anti-establishment politics of Empire Records.
The real problem is that director Michael Lehmann substitutes cookie-cutter quirk for the way real people act and talk. Like an older Juno cracking wise about pregnancy, Pussy ironically refers to Neal as “Mr. Downs” and fantasizes about living inside a vintage Airstream trailer pulled by an El Dorado. One character almost gets it right when he tells Neal to “keep acting rude; it sells,” but if you thought Lehmann was wise to his characters’ indie-film delusions, think again: By movie’s end, Mr. and Mrs. Downs make nice with the corporate sellouts down the street and live out their bohemian dreams inside an RV parked in the middle of the French Quarter. Even scarier is the way Lehmann alienates himself from his New Orleans backdrop, which seems to serve no purpose other than as grungy production design. Flakes is every bit as contrived and frivolous as going to a café and paying $3 for a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.