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With: Heather Matarazzo, Zach Braff, Michael Weston, Bebe Neuwirth, Mark Blum, Tristine Skyler
Written by: Lisanne Skyler, Tristine Skyler, based on stories by Joyce Carol Oates
Directed by: Lisanne Skyler
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 96
Date: 01/21/1999

Getting to Know You (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Station to Station

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What is it about run-down bus stations that make people want to tell their stories? Maybe it's symbolic of the end of the line or a new beginning. InGetting to Know You, the new film by San Francisco State University Film School grad Lisanne Skyler (see Interview), we get to know a brother and sister as they wait all day for two busses that will carry them in separate directions. Gettingto Know You is a delicate, beautifully blended achievement, and one of the best movies I've seen this summer.

Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) stars as Judith, with Zach Braff as her brother Wesley. Judith is headed back to whatever youth home she's staying in this month, and her brother Wesley is going off to college, on his own for the first time. We meet their parents, played by Bebe Neuwirth and Mark Blum, dancing together over the opening credits. Although they look blissful, we learn slowly that no one's life looks as normal as it ought to be.

While waiting Judith meets Jimmy (Michael Weston), a musician supposedly headed to New York City. Jimmy is interested in people's stories, especially Judith's. He begins to spin tales about those around him, and we get to the source material for this movie, Joyce Carol Oates' short stories, "Craps," "Leila Lee," and "Getting to Know All About You" (from the collection "Heat"). A woman sits in the bus station, and Jimmy tells all about her unlucky adventure in Atlantic City. Another woman has just run away from a marriage to a difficult family, and Jimmy tells a story of emotional imprisonment, loyalty, and murder.

The third story is Judith and Wesley's story. Their parents were a working dance team who made their living in show biz. Their careers suddenly ended with the birth of the children. Now the family's relationship has changed dynamics. The children have become the responsible ones while the adults throw tantrums and get drunk.

The character Jimmy was invented by Skyler and her co-writer and sister Tristine Skyler (who also appears in the film). He's the device that beautifully ties the three Oates stories together with the bus station material. Many movies have tried to weave together short stories in the past; some have succeeded (Robert Altman's Short Cuts) and some have failed (Alison Maclean's Jesus' Son). But I've never seen an effort this original. The Skyler sisters have managed to duplicate Oates' style and mood for their own original sequences so that the Oates stories don't seem trite or forced. They mix perfectly.

Skyler's direction is equally skilled. (This is her first fiction film after her feature documentary No Loans Today.) She uses space and colors amazingly well, and the pacing and timing of the flashbacks are nearly seamless. The performances are astonishing, especially those of Matarazzo and newcomer Weston, who has the stuff of a young James Dean.

Getting to Know You is ultimately about telling stories; fabricating them to get at new emotions, and further fabricating them to cover up unwanted emotions. When we get a movie this good and this skilled, we almost forget that telling stories is what most movies are supposed to do and where most movies fail. Getting to Know You is a special film.

Note: As of May, 2005, Getting to Know You has not yet been released on DVD.

Best Buy Co, Inc.