Okay, I admit it: I’m a Robert Pattinson fan. And it’s not because I admire his creatively gelled hair (although it is impressive), or because I can’t get enough of Twilight (I haven’t read the books). I’m a Robert Pattinson fan because not so long ago—before he starred in Twilight, or lifeless flicks like Remember Me—he made a wonderful film called How to Be. It’s a film so good—and one which he is so good in—that I’m still waiting for him to take a break from playing James Dean wannabees, and return to his How to Be greatness.
Pattinson plays Art, a twenty-something going through a quarter-life crisis. When his girlfriend dumps him and he moves back in with his parents, he’s got nothing going for him except his songwriting and his job at the local supermarket. The problem is, he’s not very good at either one. After he discovers a self-help book called It’s Not Your Fault, he spends his inheritance and hires the book’s elderly author to move in with him and become his life coach.
If the setup sounds similar to something you’ve seen in any number of films about “the misunderstood outsider who discovers what life is all about,” I’ll ruin the surprise and let you know: How to Be is not that movie, and Art is not your typical misunderstood antihero.
Art wants to be a musician, but doesn’t have much talent. He wants to be close to his parents, but he doesn’t have anything in common with them. He thinks he’s depressed, but he’s really just in a rut.
It’s hard to articulate what makes this film so great. For one, there’s the music. Despite Art’s lack of musical talent, the film has a killer soundtrack. The songs in How to Be do something akin to what Sufjan Stevens’ music did for Little Miss Sunshine. They are playful and wink at the audience, letting us know that Art’s on screen melodramatics are meant to be played for laughs, not tears.
Then there’s Pattinson’s British accent. Other than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this is the only film to date where he gets a chance to play an Englishman and speak in his true accent. His American accent, though technically good, tends to sound stilted. In How to Be, Pattinson’s voice has a range that is usually stifled by his impassive characters and their American accents.
Finally, there’s Art himself, who is disarmingly disheveled. His clothes are either too big or too small. He eats brimming bowls of cereal that overflow onto the table. His hair is long, uncombed, and not mussed up by a professional stylist. Basically, the poor guy just can’t get it together.
Pattinson aptly embodies Art’s disheveled state. Maybe it’s because this is pre-millionaire, pre-magazine cover boy Pattinson, but there is something different about this performance. It’s more genuine, more creative, and less encumbered than ones he’s given since.
Writer and director Oliver Irving told PopMatters in 2009 that he was working on his second film, which would be about two female scientists. I’ll be watching for that one.
As for Pattinson, I’m still rooting for him. Here’s to hoping he can parlay his fame into working with more talents like Irving, who want to cast Robert Pattinson the actor, not Robert Pattinson the sex symbol or Robert Pattinson the brooding introvert.