IFF Boston 2008: My Effortless Brilliance, Crawford

My Effortless Brilliance

Director Lynn Shelton says that she let her actors riff throughout the majority of this film where a scruffy, self-deprecating novelist (Harvey Danger lead singer Sean Nelson) struggles with a waning friendship– his friend dumps him actually– and his sudden success as a novelist. Nelson pretty much plays himself, but instead of being a singer he’s a novelist. In this ambling feature, he’s a bit insecure but has a good sense of humor. The film lingers in this comfortable persona. Weird hand held shot, camera angles and extreme close-ups secure the neurotic mood. My Effortless Brilliance has some funny, smart moments, such as Eric (Nelson) saying “I had a brie incident,” and cutting to a shot of him biting into a wheel of brie.



Did you ever wonder what the town of Crawford and the townsfolk are really like? Me either but this documentary lays it out in front of you. Northerners have stereotypes of Southerners and Southerners have stereotypes of us. This doesn’t do much to dispel any of them. Not that this is the goal although at times I think, wow, the filmmakers must think it’s amazing to find such an open-minded high school teacher in small town Texas. She’s just cool. The thing is, Crawford is only 15 miles from Waco, Tex. It’s not completely isolated in the middle of the Lone Star state. With a population of 700, Crawford got overwhelmed when then-governor/ now-President George W. Bush bought a ranch or built a ranch (I think that’s what he did but the film doesn’t provide those details). Coy political move or real desire to hunker down in a small town? Where did he live before he became governor? He did work in oil and own a baseball team. The filmmakers focus on a handful of colorful locals: a conservative horse wrangler, an avid Bush supporter, an idyllic, creative young man, a pastor, a socially aware school teacher and a Vietnam vet. A blue state view of a red state is the end product. When it’s about these people it’s interesting, when if veers away to provide political context it loses focus. Though how can there be film about President Bush without mention of this messy war?


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