The five simultaneous stories presented here cover hardships that arise in just about every facet of life—marriage, parenting, work, cultural boundaries and old age—and it does it with a welcome comic edge that keeps things from venturing in to depressive territory ala MAGNOLIA (a movie I love but can only watch once in a great while, otherwise I’d kill myself). The other nice thing about THE GREAT NEW WONDERFUL is that it’s never about one singular theme that it beats you over the head with (ala CRASH). 9/11 is used to set up the atmosphere and setting of the story, and while that vulnerable, recovering vibe is present throughout, the tragedy itself is minimally addressed. Leiner and writer Sam Catlin instead concentrate on the characters and present their lives without forced motives or obvious intertwining connections. The resulting stories merely build upon each other, often to surprising conclusions, leaving you to interpret what meaning you get out of it. I ultimately saw it as a meditation on society, especially in light of September 2001; everyone has something in their life they want to ignore and often times we just try to move past it, when maybe what we need to do is just confront it.
None of this would work without great performances from an eclectic cast. Proven actors like Maggie Gyllenhall, Judy Greer and Olympia Dukakis are unsurprisingly solid, but Leiner does something else rather cool. Maybe due in part to his time spent making “dumb” comedies, the director has confidently taken a bunch of hilarious comedic actors and cast them in mostly dramatic roles, including Jim Gaffigan, Tony Shaloub, Stephen Colbert and Will Arnett. And it works really well, with special kudos going to Gaffigan for showing a range completely hidden in his standup act. One side effect of this technique is that it makes the serious situations less overwhelming, saving the movie from the aforementioned MAGNOLIA syndrome. It also does a good job of demonstrating the fine line between drama and comedy—something that seems appropriate to the situations presented here and perhaps, as the film suggests, life in general.
Commentary by director Danny Leiner and screenwriter Sam Catlin: I guess I was expecting more humor from the guy who made HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, but it’s pretty much your average useless trivia/butt kissing commentary. I was amazed though to hear the movie was made for half a million dollars.
View as Five Mini Movies: An option to watch each of the stories separately as a short film. It’s kind of neat to see each story arc play out as a single vignette, but I think it all works a lot better as part of a larger tapestry.
Deleted Scenes (11:58): Seven scenes, including an alternate opening and a nice bit with Jim Gaffigan and Tony Shaloub that should’ve been left in.
NYC Behind the Scenes (1:30): A collection of all the “real” transition shots featuring the city. It’s a movie about New York City, so I guess it’s appropriate, if not a little pointless.
Production Stills (2:21): A montage of pictures from the movie and the production.
A Theatrical Trailer, Preview and information about an NYC Outreach Program.
Extra Tidbit: Jim Gaffigan's last great dramatic role was playing the "Chicken F*cker" in SUPER TROOPERS.