Director: Kurt Gunn
Screenplay: Kurt Gunn
Starring: Carrie Preston, Michael Chernus and Austin Pendleton
Year: 2007 (theatrical release), 2011 (UK DVD release)
Country: USA
BBFC Certification: 12
Duration: 98 mins

Lovely by Surprise is a quirky, low budget story about a writer – Marian, and a father – Bob, and the spillover of the characters from Marian’s first book into Bob’s odd, disintegrating world.

Writer / Director Kurt Gunn tackles writer’s block and overcoming loss by turning his debut film into a mysterious, whimsical comedy about both. As lonely, creative thirty-something Marian tries to write a book about two odd brothers on a boat – a fictional world just off, but connected to our own – she is advised by her older tutor, and ex-lover, Jackson that she should kill off a brother in order to increase the conflict. However every time she tries to write a death scene for the bizarre brothers – who live on cereal caught from the beach you understand – the circumstances resist, and ultimately one (Humkin) escapes and flees.

At the same time carsalesman Bob scares off potential customers by his habit of exploring whether a car can fix their lives. However while his soft philiosophical nature is charming, it disguises the loss of his wife and the fact that his daughter Mimi hasn’t spoken a word since her mother passed. His boss Dave is patient, but this patience is wearing. Bob needs his daughter to speak, but also to sell something, and soon.

When the escaped Humkin is picked up by Bob, it mixes up both their lives – and Bob and Mimi’s world is enriched by Humkin’s odd but pure behavior.

Meanwhile, Marian – aware she has lost a character – goes in desperate search of Humkin and tries to resolve her panic and tempestuous imagination. What does it all mean?

Lovely by Surprise has an innocent – and very indie – tone and a story as if Charlie Kaufman and Wes Anderson turned a corner at the same time and bashed heads. The oddity is delightful, but does require patience and willingness to… well go with it and accept its limitations. Like Stranger Than Fiction, Lovely by Surprise can’t quite fulfill the sandbox potential of mixing fictional and real worlds – settling for a murky compromise somewhere in the middle – and the story doesn’t always have clear direction. For instance Marian is fascinating, but we spend much more time with Bob, making it hard to really understand her worry and creative drive. That said Lovely by Surprise is funny, sad, and calmly striking in its creativity. As you may expect for the genre not everything is tied off or explained, but the piece does attempt to bring it all together – and on originator Marian.

With its … oblique approach and odd characters… Lovely by Surprise certainly isn’t for everyone, but has deservingly won several awards and official festival selections for its fun blend of creativity and grounded struggle, and doing so for just $1 million. This makes Gunn one to watch for in the future.

Lovely by Surprise was released on DVD in the UK on 26 December 2011.

Jonathan Guyett

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