Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: Dear Galileo

  • Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn
  • Starring Chutima Teepanat, Jarinporn Junkiat, Ray MacDonald
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 23, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

Two young women do a bit of growing up in Dear Galileo (Nee Tam Galileo, หนีตามกาลิเลโอ), in the overwhelmingly light travel drama by GMM Tai Hub and director Nithiwat Tharatorn.

Nithitwat, who made his debut as one of six young directors on the childhood comedy Fan Chan moves from the high-school romantic melodrama of his second film Seasons Change to college.

Here, headstrong Cherry (Chutima Teepanat) has been given an "F" and suspended for a year from the university, not because she's a poor student, but because the budding architect forged her absent teacher's signature so she could use the drafting room after hours. Meanwhile, Cherry's friend Noon (Jarinporn Junkiat) has broken up with her on-again off-again boyfriend Tum. He analyzes her perfectly. Being severely co-dependent, the clingy Noon is depressed and rudderless without him.

Taking a literal and metaphorical leap from a bungee-jump tower, the girls vow to be best friends forever and take a year-long trip to Europe to forget about their troubles.

Gravity is a motif that's revisited often in Dear Galileo -- Cherry and Noon test out one of the 15th century Italian physicist's purported theories -- that the speed of falling objects is independent of the objects' weight. Mixing in superstition, they throw rocks off a bridge, and if the rocks hit the water at the same time, it means something might happen. Or not.

Throughout the film, the girls are confronted by the consequences of their actions, but fail to heed the warnings until gravity -- however light -- finally takes hold.

Their travels take them to London, Paris and Venice. Along the way, they plan to work in Thai restaurants and do a bit of sightseeing whenever they can.

In London, they face just how mundane their existence is, living in a hovel of a basement apartment, working for the dragon-lady owner of a Thai restaurant and having to always be on the lookout for the Home Ministry immigration officers. For Cherry and Noon and the cheerful motley band of overseas Thai workers, being caught means being deported.

Wearing out their welcome in London, the girls head to Paris, where the stereotypical accordion music is cued up for scenes of Gauloises-puffing French.

Their life in Paris is even drearier, is hampered by even steeper language difficulties and the fact that the two friends are getting on each other's nerves. They didn't really share much chemistry to begin with, so it's hard to imagine them getting along in the first place.

A better onscreen mix is the meek Noon and actor Ray MacDonald, who plays a streetwise Thai man who's been a longtime resident of Paris, squatting in an abandoned riverside warehouse with an eclectic group of artists and Bohemians.

Ray's a much-needed heroic relief to the two whining women and their cute posing. They become increasingly annoying as the movie drags on.

Wearing an evil Spock goatee, there's an edginess to Ray's character, who's also named Tum to Cherry's dismay. I kept wanting him to switch into bone-breaking mode like Liam Neeson in Taken, but nothing so exciting as that happens. Instead, Ray doesn't take any nonsense, and he calls the girls out on their bullshit.

Noon, who first spots Ray in the subway and overhears him speaking Thai, tries to surreptitiously follow him, but does a poor job of it, eventually almost walking out into the path of speeding motorcycle, only to be saved by Ray. He had spotted her way back. "Thais never look to their right when they are walking, and they never look before the cross the road. Only Thai people are like that."

When he meets Cherry, he makes it clear he has no sympathy for her being suspended from the university. She forged a signature, and just because her teacher hadn't shown up that day, it doesn't make forgery right. And that's that. But control-freak Cherry does help Ray's artist buddies arrange their exhibition. And she wows an Italian architect friend with her design of a house that defies the laws of gravity.

Emboldened, Cherry keeps trying to cut corners. She influences Noon to sneak through the ticket gate on the Paris Metro, and the pair are almost caught by the police. The girls disembark at the next station and run before the police are on to them. It's a breathtaking sequence of handheld camera work that ends when they ascend the stairs to the street and the blinding rays of sun flair over the screen.

It's a head rush and about as exciting as Dear Galileo gets.

So they get away with being ticket scofflaws, and fail to learn a lesson yet again. And more trouble awaits them in Italy.

But for Dear Galileo, the consequences are never that great. It's deliberately kept light as it seeks to show a "normal" experience for overseas Thai students, working their way around in Thai restaurants.

The worst that can happen to Cherry and Noon is that they'll be deported, back to their schools and parents in Thailand. The anti-climax and frustrating squeeky cleanliness of it all is symbolized by one moment when Cherry trades the shirt off her back for an Englishman's Liverpool football jersey (Fernando Torres, No. 9) to send to her brother back home. The Liverpudlian lads are mightily disappointed to find this young Thai woman -- being a good Thai girl -- has another shirt on underneath her T-shirt.

Though there is a lost night for Noon. What did she do when she spent those hours at the Bohemian colony with Ray and those strapping American and Colombian artists?

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  1. Great review. It's such a lightweight film, but the cinematography is excellent I thought. One more thing: Jarinporn is easily the more annoying of the two women; she seems to be permanently gurning. A Thai friend of mine said she was the cutest girl he had ever seen! WTF?


  2. Jarinporn is undeniably cute. Cute with a capital K. I think I saw her on a commercial. Don't remember what it was for. She was going through all the cute poses I see people doing when they are mugging for the camera.

    But man, her character in Dear Galileo was annoying.

    What bugged me about Chutima's character is that she wants to be this in-control, in-charge, do-it-all type but then is actually a big slob.

  3. Wow really? I actually liked Toey's character more. But then again, I'm usually drawn towards optimistic, happy characters. I have to say though, Toey's not just popular because of her looks, but also her refreshing and down to earth persona.

    I think that flaw in Tai's character makes her more relatable? It was nice to see her act a character with more negative qualities; a nice juxtaposition to her character in Seasons Change.

  4. I totally agree with you in most aspects! Especially Ray's character. While I watching I always wish this guy to came back his motherland, and starting to do something tougher than just fishing and teaching philosophy to me.

    The hughest thing that I dislike Dear Galileo's attitude is the scene at Fabrizio's pizza restaurant. It seems to depict that Cherry's a bad person because she's trying to cheat Fabrizio and that related to when she forged the professor's signature. I can't stand that totally flat attitude about morality.

  5. I thought the scene at the hostel in Paris was hilarious

  6. I just watched this. I am Thai and was in Paris for a year and also had a chance of going around Italy, and so I can relate to their experiences. I feel that the film is rather accurate in depicting how the normal everyday Europe is like (esp. Paris). The story seemed slow during the first 60 minutes I almost stopped watching. The girls' bickerings were irrirating. But it was nice towards the end. I dont watch much movies and know none of the cast before watching. Ray, to me, looked more like a crook, and i felt he was going to turn bad (e.g. in drugs, etc.), but luckily not. The story is light but satisfying towards the end. 6.8 /10


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