Quick: Who was the most unbelievable movie character to appear onscreen in recent memory? Jar-Jar Binks? Mini-Me? South Park's Saddam Hussein? All may be supplanted by Joline (Heather Graham), the main character in Committed. See, Joline is a young, hip New York club owner who actually does what she says she's going to do! She keeps all her appointments! And she won't break a promise! It's no wonder most of the other characters in the film think she's nuts. Why, if people in California were to follow Joline's example, there'd be no entertainment business. Not to mention all the personal ad and dating services that would go bankrupt.
Joline begins the film by getting married to Carl (Luke Wilson, doing his best Jimmy Stewart) and is determined to stay that way, demonstrating her seriousness by tattooing a wedding ring on her finger. Exactly 597 days later (the film is very specific about this, for some reason to which we're never privy), Carl disappears, leaving an answering-machine message that says he'll be back late. Unwilling to sleep in a lonely apartment, Joline spends the night with her brother Jay (Casey Affleck) and the lesbian couple he rooms and occasionally snuggles with. After a day consumed preparing a surprise party for Carl, Joline returns home to find all of his stuff gone, and a note reading, "I don't know when I'll be back." Still she doesn't back out of a commitment, so the party must be held, with or without the guest of honor. Her doofus friends show up nonetheless, muttering lame condolences like, "I got some dope if you need some." One says of Carl: "And people think I'm a dick," before ineptly trying to put the moves on Joline.
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Stepping outside for a breather, Joline encounters a car thief (Everclear's Art Alexakis), who gives her a sob story about trying to get to Long Island. Suddenly stricken with the realization that good deeds are their own reward whether or not the person in question is worth the effort, she gives the thief $40 for a bus ticket and decides then and there she's going to bring Carl back and make him fulfill his end of the marriage vows. Armed with only a postcard boasting a vague, blurred postmark and pictures of cacti, she sets out across America, using a vague series of Zenlike rituals to point her in the right direction. The quest ends in El Paso, but that's where the fun really begins. See, she's not going to make herself known to Carl until she thinks he's ready. But until that moment comes, she's gonna keep tabs on his every move. In the process she encounters a slew of strange locals, including a piñata sculptor from Eastern Europe (Goran Visnjic) who has a thing for women who are intensely faithful to their husbands, a Mexican waitress (Patricia Velasquez) who's so impressed by the spirituality of Joline's quest she thinks she must be "from Tibet or something," and an aged snake handler (Alfonso Arou) who offers mysterious spiritual advice (of course).
Writer-director Lisa Krueger (Manny & Lo) obviously watched some good movies in the Eighties: Committed is like a cross between Paris, Texas and Raising Arizona (though not quite the masterpiece that either of those films was), splitting the difference between the slow, poetic pace of Wim Wenders and the Coen brothers' freneticism while maintaining the quirkier aspects of both. And even though Krueger isn't originally from Texas, the film has the same kind of uniquely Texan quirkiness that can be seen in films such as Slacker and True Stories, and even MTV's short-lived series Austin Stories. Perhaps it's the vast open desert spaces that allow for individual weirdness to shine.
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And Graham finally delivers the star performance she's been promising for so long, breaking out of the whole "love interest with brains" rut she's been in. Her Joline is so unwilling to admit defeat and despair that she sublimates it into her greater drive to bring Carl home, even though everyone tells her he's not worth it. "Maybe he's in a spiritual wheelchair," she says to Jay, when he offers that it'd be a different story if Carl had become handicapped. And Joline is desperately, uncannily cordial, even in the midst of her plight. She's the sort of person who'll ram a hostile car into a ditch, then politely ask, "You guys all right, sir?" Then, later, she'll ask aloud: "What does violence ever really solve?" before smashing up a car's windows in lieu of her husband's face.
The title pun is fairly obvious (she's so fiercely committed to her marriage that people think she's crazy enough to be committed, get it?), but it works. And the film does force us to ask whether such devotion is sweet and meritorious, or simply delusional. To Krueger's credit she doesn't absolutely pick a side. The ending chickens out a little by being cleaner than it ought to be, but the last third of the film is not exactly what you'd call predictable. It's a sad comment on society that a strong sense of commitment can be considered an aberration, but it's a good sign that at least one gifted filmmaker cared enough to make it a major theme.