Quid Pro Quo

Magnolia Pictures
Carlos Brooks/United States 2008

Quid Pro Quo – written and directed by first-timer Carlos Brooks – is one of those films so bound up in its conceptual cleverness, in the metaphor at its core, that all hope of compelling storytelling is lost. It adopts an intriguing conceit, that all of us are in some way disabled and that we are possessed by the desire to share our shortcomings with others, and turns it into an ineffective, vaguely Lynchian mess.

Nick Stahl, the best thing about this year’s underrated Sleepwalking, stars as Isaac. He’s a disabled New York public radio DJ, stuck in a wheelchair since a tragic car accident in his youth. Over the course of the film he becomes acquainted with a fetishistic underground of healthy, physically-sound people who envy and desire his disability. One in particular, a beautiful and deeply troubled woman named Fiona (Vera Farmiga), leads him further into this strange alternate world.

Sounds intriguing, but Brooks proves demonstrably bereft of Lynch’s eye for the beauty and mystery inherent in such an oddball universe. Whether due to a lack of imagination or the constraints of the cheap HD aesthetic he never compels much immersion into the milieu, which seems incompletely realized. Because the movie’s departures from the real world feel a bit halfhearted and incomplete, as if the writer-director merely sprinkled them into everyday New York City, an intriguing premise goes largely to waste. The inability to fully accept what Brooks seeks to do makes it hard to take seriously Farmiga’s impassioned pleas for a disability and even harder to accept the various magical plot devices the filmmaker subjects on the story.

The film’s premise does inspire some introspection. The filmmaker has put forth the sort of provocative philosophical notion that could conceivably underwrite a significant cinematic exploration. Unfortunately, Quid Pro Quo, bound up in underdeveloped abstractions, is just not that movie.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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