I’ve now watched three Caveh Zahedi films, which may say more about my masochism than anything else. As it happens I watched them in reverse chronological order. First I saw his short The World is a Classroom that was a part of the compilation Underground Zero about the 9/11 attacks. Then I saw I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore from 1994. A Little Stiff is the earliest of all, a film he made back when he was a UCLA film student.
In style, this film is more like how I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore was initially intended to be than how it eventually ended up. It is a re-creation of events in his own life, where all or most of the people in the movie play themselves.
My reaction to him in this film was similar to how I reacted to him in the other films of his I’ve seen. In the abstract I admire his willingness to be so real and to not shape what we see of him to make himself look better. But at the same time I find him to not be at all a likable guy. I just think he’s a really annoying little dweeb, and his occasional espousing of some kind of New Age spirituality is laughable—very close to parody.
Some people find the classic Woody Allen character to be really annoying. I don’t; I think he’s great. But Zahedi is very loosely of that same insecure, self-absorbed, neurotic personality type, and I react to him the way people who can’t stand Allen react to Allen. So watching this, I can better understand why Allen pushes some people’s buttons.
A Little Stiff is a re-creation of Zahedi’s relationship—using the term loosely—with an art student that he meets in an elevator at UCLA.
On the one hand, it seems very well acted in that the dialogue and such is much more like you would see in real life than in a movie. People talk in a halting, uncertain manner with little verbal ticks, some of the dialogue and action is aimless—it doesn’t have the smooth, scripted feel of a movie.
On the other hand, it feels very shallow. At times he talks like he’s really falling for this girl (that he basically doesn’t even know), but there’s no intensity to it. It didn’t bring back to me at all what it was like as a teenager or college student to fall hard for somebody, to be thinking about them all the time, really wanting to be with them, wondering what they thought of me, etc. The film tries to go there, but I just didn’t sense any depth to his feelings for her.
It’s kind of the same way the protagonist in Donkey in Lahore struck me. I think Zahedi might suffer from whatever mild mental illness or whatever it is that seemed to keep that guy so emotionally superficial.
I see little in the girl either. She’s on screen a lot less, and it’s all told from Zahedi’s perspective, so there’s less reason to expect to get to know her well, but she seems kind of empty, hard to get a read on.
Why is she even with him, to the minimal extent she is? As far as I can tell, he has zero charisma, and there’s no chemistry at all between them when they’re together. Not romantically and not otherwise.
He’s kind of this socially awkward, borderline stalker on the periphery of her life. She invites him along a couple times when she’s going to a party or out with friends, they talk briefly on the phone here and there, but that’s about it. Evidently the farthest things go in a month or two is a kiss on the cheek. So there’s no great connection. But neither does she ever seem put off by him or suspicious, as most women probably would be and perhaps should be.
Then when she breaks up with him by phone—not that there’s anything between them to speak of to break—she cries and seems emotional for the first time in the movie. But why I have no idea. She gives him a convoluted version of “It’s not you, it’s me,” in explaining why it’s best they not see each other anymore, but to me the expressed emotion comes from nowhere and doesn’t fit anything we’ve seen up to that point.
So the movie is about a really annoying guy and a girl who’s close to a cipher, who become acquainted and hang out together minimally for a month or two, with the guy hoping it’ll become more, but it doesn’t. His fumbling manner is a little funny here and there, and she has a dynamite set of legs, but mostly the movie has little if anything interesting to say about relationships, love, lust, or much of anything.
I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore was a bit more interesting to me than A Little Stiff. There’s something clearly deeper going on with Zahedi and his father and stepbrother, a history, an emotionally richer dynamic. There’s next to nothing going on between Zahedi and this girl.
This film isn’t anywhere near as amateurish looking as I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore by the way, which is atrocious in so many ways. This is actually fairly well shot and edited, for a cheesy little student film with no budget. I like, for instance, that when a friend of the girl’s and a potential rival to date her is opening up to Zahedi, the camera stays exclusively on Zahedi for the whole extended period of time, just watching his silent reaction as he lets the guy talk so he can gather more information relative to his own standing with the girl.
The realism of the film, the honesty of Zahedi letting himself come across as a jerk, earns it some points, but for the most part A Little Stiff is a dud.