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Monday, July 1, 2013


Bobby Sommer in Museum Hours
Courtesy of The Cinema Guild

2013, 107 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

NOTE: I was able to review this film through the generous support of IFC Center, one of New York's best movie theaters.  They show a selection of new and old films and bring in talent from almost every movie they show:

I rarely wish bad on an independent film because I know their creators need every cent they can get from ticket sales.  People work long and hard on these films and rarely turn a profit.  However, every once in a while one comes along that is so horrible and such a waste of time that I hope that it fails for the sake of cinema, if only to give myself peace of mind with the thought that no one will ever see a movie that bad again.  Museum Hours isn't quite on that level, but it comes close.  I sincerely hope I never have to sit through one of writer/director Jem Cohen's pretentious snoozefests again.

Museum Hours begins with the story of a Canadian woman who befriends an Austrian guard in an art museum.  Had Cohen been smart, he would have stuck to this potentially moving storyline.  Instead he has to turn it loose and allows it to go off in all directions.  Sometimes Cohen cuts to something happening around the characters while they’re conversing to “observe the minute details of everyday life”.  Aren't they interesting enough?  They would interesting if in good hands, but they are terribly boring in Cohen’s hands.  Jem Cohen seems to believe that we are going to fall head over heels in love with his supposedly fascinating observations about art and life and the connection between the two, but by the end of this atrocity, I was not falling in love.  I was nearly laughing at how seriously he takes himself.  His movie doesn't even look or sound good.  I don't need perfect production values.  I understand low budget filmmaking, but this looks as bad as if a tourist took a camera and filmed little details of life around a city while on vacation.

Museum Hours has a few clever moments at the beginning, but that's it.  The lead actress, Mary Margaret O'Hara, is incredibly annoying and I cringed every time she was on screen.

I simply felt insulted that Mr. Cohen thought that he could sprawl his ideas on screen for nearly two hours without me caring.  There is no rhyme or reason to the film's scene organization or seemingly random shots.  Cohen thinks he's being a good observer of life.  He isn't.  The material presented isn't smart.  Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke are true observers.  Their new film, Before Midnight, isn't only a brilliant character study, but one of the greatest motion pictures of time.  Museum Hours has been described as an "essay film".  I wouldn't argue with that.  Its insufferable pretentiousness would have suited essay format better.  There is nothing to grasp onto in this film, and that was one of the places where it lost me.  If I don't care about what's on screen or have any interest in the "story" which meanders in five hundred different directions, why would I care about the movie as a whole?

Overall, Museum Hours is one of the worst movies of this year thus far.  I love films filled with ideas; my job is to watch those films.  I don't need a tight narrative as long as there is something of interest presented (Pina is a wonderful example of that).  However, I do not want to be privy to watching someone's dissertation on art and its relationship to people for 107 minutes.  And I especially don't want to watch it if it isn't even well made.


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