Paul Dano looks weird. With his planar forehead, nubby chin, and inward-sloping face, he resembles a living Daniel Clowes drawing. Naturally, then, he’s often cast in oddball roles, like the Nietzschean mealy-mouth of Little Miss Sunshine, the character he channels most in Gigantic. (Rather than, unfortunately, the superiorly seething and serpentine preacher of There Will Be Blood.)
The press notes provided very little information about the filmmakers, so I’ll speculate: I imagine they were raised in a bona fide Squaresville, U.S.A., where cheerleaders and football players told them they were strange and they eventually came to believe it, to define themselves proudly by it. So now they’ve made this, a movie about eccentrics whose sole function is to be eccentric because, in a romantic Sundancer like this, being eccentric is a virtue in and of itself—old bullies be damned.
Dano, in a fine performance, plays a dry-witted mattress salesman who has wanted to adopt a Chinese baby since he was a child. (Isn’t that interesting?) Zooey Deschanel, of the sinister bangs and saucer eyes, plays his love interest, lachrymose and flighty—“I’m going to cooking school. In France. I just signed up online”—whom he meets cute when she passes out on one of the mattresses in his store. (John Goodman, trying way too hard to be an outsized personality, plays her father.) To make things weirder (because the weirder, the better, of course), a master of disguise is stalking Dano, occasionally beating him up or shooting him in the leg. It’s a “metaphor.”
In the press notes, director Matt Aselton cites Buñuel as an influence, but he fails to understand the difference between being a surrealist and being a nonsense-ist. Gigantic isn’t surreal—it’s folderol, a meager sum of quirky details. At the end, Dano’s mother (Jane Alexander) summarizes the film’s philosophy when she tells Deschanel that, “nothing’s normal.” Little do the filmmakers realize that, in the world outside of independent film, plenty of things are normal. For starters, we don’t all look like Eightball characters.