Wednesday , July 17 2024
(L to R): John Magaro, Steve Buscemi in 'The Shallow Tale of a Writer who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer' (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write About a Serial Killer’

Defying Genre

The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write About a Serial Killer received its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2024. Written and directed by Tolga Karaçelik, the comedic feature appears in the Spotlight Narrative section. Starring Steve Buscemi, John Magaro, and Britt Lower, Karaçelik’s quirky, zany and humorous film refreshingly turns typical studio film genres on their heads.

Relying on gyrating plot twists, the director winds up his eccentric characters and sets them loose. Struggling to finish his second novel after some success with his first, self-absorbed Keane (Magaro) fears failure. Unaware that his emotional absence from his marriage infuriates wife Suzie (Lower), the family breadwinner, he quarrels with her after an outing with another couple.

At the restaurant Keane “holds forth” on the plot of his latest novel and humiliates himself. His boorish pompousness ushers in his friends’ ridicule. Unbeknownst to Keane, Suzie here reaches her breaking point. At the end of the evening in Suzie’s lovely New York City townhouse, she announces their divorce. The announcement shocks him.

The Pace Quickens

The director almost lets Keane’s hollow pomposity go on too long. But thanks to Magaro’s wishy-washy, offbeat “writer” and the director’s sensitivity, the pacing quickens with a plot twist. When Keane goes to the neighborhood bar to drown his troubles in alcohol, he runs into the eccentric Kollmick (Buscemi). Apparently, Kollmick, who previously introduced himself to Keane as his biggest fan, means business. The determined yet soft-spoken Kollmick suggests Keane write his life as a serial killer, assuring him that he’s retired. To make the story realistic, Kollmick offers to be his consultant.

Steve Buscemi in 'The Shallow Tale of a Writer who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer (courtesy of Tribeca FF)
Steve Buscemi in The Shallow Tale of a Writer who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

By this point Keane can barely stand. When Kollmick brings the alcohol-fogged Keane back to their home, hearing the commotion downstairs Suzie confronts Keane about the stranger in their house. Because in vino veritas, we think that Keane will spill the beans. However, the alcohol has loosened his imagination. Instead, when Kollmick introduces himself as Keane’s consultant, Keane goes along with the charade. Shocked, Suzie expresses her gratitude that Keane for the first time in their relationship has taken the initiative to hire a marriage counselor.

After thinking that Keane may have turned over a new leaf, Suzie tells him the next morning that she agrees to marriage counseling. Not suspecting that the situation has the possibility for disaster, Keane realizes her misunderstanding has thrown him a lifeline. In a bizarre quid pro quo, Keane promises to write a book about Kollmick, if the serial killer agrees to counsel Suzie and Keane. Initially, Kollmick disagrees because of his lack of expertise in saving marriages. However, Kollmick wants to share his tactical expertise as a killer and perhaps become famous. Thus, he agrees to become their marriage counselor.

Building up to a Funny and Bizarre Situational Comedy

Steve Buscemi, Britt Lower at the Q and A after the screening of 'The Shallow Tale of a Writer who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer' (Carole Di Tosti)
Steve Buscemi, Britt Lower at the Q&A after the screening of the film (Carole Di Tosti)

Starting from a clever premise, Karaçelik builds on this unbelievable yet believable situational comedy. Like an architect who knows his craft, the director builds brief humorous scenes of Kollmick sitting with Keane and Suzie during counseling sessions. One involves their looking at a misshapen stuffed black cat to receive peace. Because of the actors’ investment, we believe the preposterous situation.

Cut with every counseling session, the director shows scenes where Kollmick teaches Keane his top tips to be a serial killer who kills with impunity. Miraculously, but realistically, the uptight, strained, repressed Suzie changes. She believes the counseling works. Keane becomes more interesting to her. Kollmick enjoys showing Keane his techniques.

And then the situation goes in another direction, then whirls to yet another. When Kollmick suggests Keane kidnap his agent David (Ward Horton) and hold him hostage, Keane’s fears of failure again arise. Of course the gag will terrify the smarmy, smug agent and convince him the book has promise. This kidnapping will insure David’s solid investment in selling Keane’s book about Kollmick.

A Visit to a Scary Gun Dealer

However, before the kidnappings begin, they must visit a gun dealer to purchase a weapon, no small feat with New York City’s gun laws. As we stand in Keane’s shoes fearing everything will go wrong, the plans go awry. Surprising twists crescendo furiously to an ironic and satisfying last 10 minutes of the film.

From set design on the streets of New York City to the interiors, the film speaks to contrasts. Contrasts abide with Suzie and Keane’s lovely home, Kollmick’s seedy hotel, the dark, slummy bar, and the upscale restaurant where the couples dine. The sets and music complement the superb contrasting characters and haphazard situations which can go wrong and do.

We delight in their inherent humor watching the soft, creative Keane against his terse, organized opposite Suzie. The irony that the “matter-of-fact,” low-key “retired” serial killer Kollmick holds their marriage together and spices it up speaks to an ultimate contrast and payoff. The film is a smashing Murphy’s Law avatar (“If something can go wrong it will”). And the director takes it to the sweet spot every time.

This must-see screens at Tribeca Film Festival. See it there or screening on platforms in the future.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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