Art is a very subjective medium. People see or hear different things. One person’s masterpiece is another’s gibberish.
Darts, however, are more objective. You hit the mark or you don’t, there is no room for debate. Unless it’s right on the line and… I digress.
Walking into A Critically Endangered Species, I had no clue of what to expect. The film revolves around an artist whose popularity and relevance is waning. So to ensure her legacy lives on, she both announces her intended suicide and makes a job announcement for someone to handle her estate after she’s gone. Oh, and this was done on NPR. Hmmmm…I thought there were going to be some rhinos, whales, or apes. My bad.
Maya (Lena Olin) is a writer whose works, while they may have the utmost quality, aren’t getting the “clicks” or “downloads” as the superficial pieces of writing that are being produced today. She sees the bigger picture, but how does one cement her place in history? By dying, of course. It’s worked for so many other artists, right?
Olin is intoxicating with her sultry demeanor and her erotically raspy voice. These traits help aid her process with the young, male suitors… er, applicants. How? Well, they must perform oral sex on her. That’s one hell of a job interview, right? When the application process is whittled down to two, the movie finally seems to move forward.
The final two are two diametrically opposed personalities: the cocksure Paul (Alexander Koch) and the submissive Ansel (Nathan Keyes). Both have qualities that may keep Maya’s legacy intact but it’s up to her to decide which one is better. This involves more than just some fancy tongue work. While Paul appeals more to her amorous and business side, Ansel seems to understand the artist and her work, he “gets it”. Maya schedules regular visits with each until it culminates in a final struggle between the two applicants.
Where the movie nails its mark is Maya’s interaction with her eccentric, gun-toting neighbor, Leonora (Rosanna Arquette). Their chemistry, witty banter and oozing sarcasm had me begging for more.
At times it felt like I was looking through the single-paned glass of one of the doors or windows strewn about Maya’s property. While able to see through, sometimes the image may be a bit out of focus. There seemed to be an abundance of the pensive staring off into nothing by the characters that is a staple for festival films. Natural lighting permeating the smoky haze inside the house and elegantly detailed costumes all add to the artistic ambiance created by the cinematographer Patrick Sola and costume designer Susan Doepner-Senac.
While I wasn’t prepared for the arthouse cinema darling that A Critically Endangered Species is likely to be, I was mesmerized by some of the performances, even though the subject matter left a little to be desired. It’s like aiming for a double-bullseye and hitting double fourteens. Not a bad throw of the dart, but it could have been better.
Starring Lena Olin, Rosanna Arquette, Nathan Keyes
Written by Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak
Directed by Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak