Movie Review : Shoplifting from American Apparel (2012)
...lots of unknown actors. (but it's...really...a part of things)
French director Olivier Assayas released a both very entertaining and hermetic movie called IRMA VEP, which was about a Jean-Luc Godard parody (played to near-perfection by Jean-Pierre Léaud), trying to do a remake of an old movie called "Les Vampires", but not really having success. It's hilarious, especially if you loathe Godard as much as I do, but it's also chock-full of cinema theory jokes. So it's kinda hard to get. Pirooz Kalayeh's movie adaptation of Tao Lin's novella SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL has the same uneasy appeal. The movie title and the poster would lead you to think it's a straightforward adaptation, only it's not. A by-numbers adaptation of SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL would miss the point anyway and could be the most boring movie ever made. But Pirooz Kalayeh's movie isn't that. It's not anything precise, but it's a collection of small, interesting and heteroclite segments about all sorts of things.
I know it's anything but clear. Let me put it as simple as I can. SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL, the movie isn't a straight adaptation of SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL, the book. It's a movie about TRYING to adapt the book. It features segments from the book (the shoplifting and the prison parts) as well as behind-the-scenes troubleshooting parts (including a very funny segment where they can't find an American Apparel to steal from), scenes that respect the spirit of the book (gmail chats), strange "fake" Tao Lin readings (including an actor that plays "the real" Tao...who isn't Asian) and actual documentary footage of Tao Lin watching the movie. I know, it sounds like a mess. Except it's not. Pirooz Kalayeh understands very well how to build a composite movie from bits and pieces and most important, he's faithful to the alienated, disembodied spirit of the original work.
Tao Lin's novella reads like a series of awkward occurrences, happening to a protagonist who seems to suffer deeply-rooted emotional issues. You're never sure why he steals clothes. Pirooz Kayeleh's movie suffers from the same issues than Tao Lin's protagonist and it gives place to a series of breakdowns, where the supposed fictional movie turns into a documentary. It's hilarious. It's like the movie suffers from self-esteem issues. Characters (both fictional and documentary) get entangled in impossible quid pro quo and whatever the director (the character, not the real director) intended, isn't going to happen. I'll admit, it takes a strong stomach for experimental art and a bit of arthouse cinema background to handle SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL. It will anger the shit out of some viewers. But then again, Tao Lin angers a lot of people with his prose. A lot. So Pirooz Kaleyeh's ideas really live up to the passive-aggressive contrarianism of the original material.
If you're into summer blockbusters, you're going to hate this. If you're into genre movies, like horror or science-fiction, you're going to hate this too. But the target audience of SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL is very precise. Alienated intellectuals...and hipsters, so some degree. It's a challenge that requires active participation. There's no sit-and-watch, turn-your-brain-off routine to this movie. It requires every bit of your attention and all of your wits. But it's a good movie. I would recommend it to no one who didn't already experience Tao Lin's prose, but if you did and enjoyed it, this is as good as a movie adaptation will get. What I'm trying to say, is that it's really well done, but it's an acquired taste by nature. A little background in Tao Lin's prose is preferable upon watching, but it should be a feast for very adventurous intellectuals.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.