Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Think We’re Alone Now Review, Fantastic Fest 2008

I Think We’re Alone Now Review, Fantastic Fest 2008
By Karina Longworth
posted 2 weeks ago

If distributors came to Fantastic Fest this year looking for the next Timecrimes, and badge holders descended hungry for a peek at the next There Will Be Blood, it’s interesting that one of the most talked about films on the schedule has ended up being not a world premiere, not a surprise preview of an Oscar contender, not an unknown international oddity, and not even, really, a genre film, but a documentary made by an American 25 year-old which has been on the festival circuit for nine months.

And yet, the popularity of I Think We’re Alone Now (otherwise known as The Tiffany Stalker Movie) at Fantastic Fest makes a certain perfect sense, and not just because this audience is accustomed to stories of sexual obsession (usually fictional, usually much gorier). In putting a camera in the faces of two lonely, mentally unwell adults, who are both desperate for the attention but incapable of filtering their stories, director Sean Donnelly has made what could be classified as an exploitation film. But even more appropriate for the venue, it’s an exploitation film tailor-made for anyone familiar with unrequited longing, and it wouldn’t work at all if Donnelly’s genuine care for his subjects didn’t shine through.

Donnelly, who grew up in Santa Cruz, CA, began filming middle-aged local character Jeff Turner when he was a sophomore in college. Jeff, who has Asperger’s, is full of stories, which he related in a rapid-fire ramble. Eventually, he reveals evidence of his “special relationship” with Tiffany, the 80s teen pop singer–turned–Celebreality staple. Jeff goes back and forth between referring to Tiffany as his true love (who, he claims, posed for PLAYBOY as a coded message just for him) and his best friend, but perhaps the most “special” thing about their bond is that Tiffany got a restraining order against Jeff when he showed up to her emancipation hearing in the late 80s hoping to give the star a samurai sword. (We see the restraining order in a folder full of papers, including press clippings about the incident and Jeff’s returned letters to Tiffany, all written in careful schoolgirl’s cursive).

Seemingly unrelated to Jeff but commonly disturbed, Denver-based Kelly is an intersex woman whose apartment walls are plastered with black and white photographs of Tiffany. While Jeff’s delusions––from his insistence that he and Tiffany psychicly communicate via some kind of a helmet, to his conviction that all of the attendees of an erotic convention had already been saved by God––mostly manifest themselves in skewed assumptions about the outside world, Kelly can’t even get to that point, because she’s so deluded about her self. Where Jeff uses his own disability insurance to travel the Southwest attending any and every Tiffany event he can, Kelly’s never even been to a Tiffany concert. She loves from afar, sadly admitting that “Cupid never came around” to her house, but maintaining that she and Tiffany are destined to be together. Living on SSDI governmental assistance since an accident that left her in a coma for weeks, the 30-something Kelly seems to be mentally stuck at a much earlier age; in addition to her immature insistence ideas about romance, Kelly brags and exaggerates about her physique and athletic prowess like a child.

If this sounds creepy, at times, it is. Donnelly offers more than a few opportunities to laugh and/or cringe at the obsessive Tiffany fans, but it’s the sadness of their situations that ends up staying with you. Though the stalkers are obviously living in extreme states of fantasy, there’s a thread to their emotional mania that should be recognizable to anyone who has ever felt like they “deserved” love they couldn’t get, to anyone who’s been rendered powerless by their attraction to someone who just doesn’t care. It’s to Donnelly’s credit that he stays with his subjects until their respective cloud covers part a bit, but we never get the sense that there will be anything like “normal” romance awaiting either Jeff or Kelly. I Think We’re Alone Now never artificially humanizes its characters, but it makes it a little easier to understand how a life almost totally devoid of affection or compassion could help treatable psychological issues mutate into unnavigable madness.

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