The so-called “indie boom” of the 1990s was an exciting time in cinema, when low-budget and personal films from up-and-coming artists got big releases in theaters. One of the best of this wave was Living in Oblivion, from writer-director Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede), now celebrating its 20th anniversary with this new Blu-ray from the always-cool Shout! Factory.
Indie filmmaker Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs) just wants to get his movie made. Throughout the shooting of three crucial scenes, Nick has to deal with an attention-hogging celebrity (James LeGros, Point Break), a gruff cameraman (Dermot Mulroney, The Grey), a little person with a big attitude (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones), and — most crucial of all — a lead actress (Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich), whom Nick has developed feelings for.
It’s been stated many times over the years that the day-to-day work of filmmaking is not glamourous, despite what Hollywood would have you believe. Living in Oblivion captures that admirably. Nick is frantically trying to get his movie made, while disaster after disaster happens all around him. It’s quite a juggling act, dealing with technical difficulties, a crew of eccentrics, and his own interpersonal crises. Living in Oblivion’s screenplay pulls off a similar juggling act, offering a number of subplots and minor characters in Nick’s orbit, giving each one a chance to shine while never overshadowing the others. By the time the movie is over, you feel like you’ve gotten to know this bunch, and are even rooting for them to succeed, despite their many foibles.
Steve Buscemi does a variation on his usual quick-witted fast-talking character, with this one prone to huge outbursts of frustration. Every yell, grimace, and freak-out of Buscemi’s is perfectly timed, and he owns the whole movie. Just as good is Catherine Keener. As we see her do multiple takes of the same scene, Keener does slight variations on each one, with varying levels of emotional intensity. She has the more serious, less jokey role, as she faces the “why act?” question that haunts many an actor. The rest of the cast fills their roles nicely, a colorful and eclectic bunch who mesh well with one another.
Special mention must be made of Peter Dinklage, with this being one of his first roles. While Dinklage is known for stealing scenes left and right on Game of Thrones, he similarly makes the most of his performance in Living in Oblivion, with a hilarious takedown of how little people are used in movies. It’s a great speech and justifiably one of the moments that everyone remembers from the film.
Picture quality on the Blu-ray is a little rough. It is overly soft, with occasional distracting spots on the image. Considering the film’s low budget origins, they likely did the best they could with what they had to work with. The mono audio track is good, so you’ll have no problem making out the all-important dialogue. The best of the bonus features is a commentary from writer-director Tom DiCillo, who speaks openly about the emotional journey he went on in creating the film. This is followed up by a brand-new featurette that has interviews with director, producer, and cast. We also get a separate Q&A with DiCillo and Buscemi. A deleted scene is also included.
Not much else to say about this one. Living in Oblivion is one of the finest comedies around. It’s a clever script brought to life by an outstanding cast. Definitely see it.
Living in Oblivion (Blu-ray) 1995, Shout! Factory, 92 minutes, R (1995)
Not guilty. Where’s my mark?
VIDEO: 1.85:1, 1080p AUDIO: DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
SUBTITLES: English EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scene ACCOMPLICES: IMDB