What the #$*! Do We Know?

         Right up front, a confession: I may have some mental capabilities, but I’m totally hopeless when it
 comes to math and science. Since I was kid, they were my worst subjects. I practically failed calculus in
 high school and I had to take a statistics course twice in grad school in order to pass. So a film that
 discusses quantum physics held about as much appeal to me as spending a night at Abu Ghraib. So I
 approached the hybrid documentary-fictional film
WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW? with trepidation
 and a healthy skepticism.

         The film intercuts interviews with philosophers, medical professionals, professors, physicists and
 mystics (none of whom are identified until the end credits) with the fictional tale of Amanda (Oscar
 winner Marlee Matlin), a photographer coping with the recent breakup of her marriage due to her
 husband’s infidelity. To afford her spacious Portland, Oregon, apartment, she has a quirky artist
 roommate (Elaine Hendrix). Amanda also has strange dreams, like the one where she’s a Native
 American in the time of Columbus and meets a savvy street kid (Robert Bailey Jr.) who engages
 her in a discussion of some of the properties of physics while playing basketball. And did I mention
 the curious animated sequences that depict the inner workings of the body, replete with little blobby things?

         WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW? is a very odd amalgam of documentary, animation and
 fiction that doesn’t cohere, despite the intentions of its trio of directors. The film, particularly in the talking
 heads sections, raises some intriguing philosophical ideas, but the fictional story meant to illustrate some
 of these theories is lame, at best.

         Since she won the Best Actress Academy Award for her 1986 film debut in
, Marlee Matlin has had difficulty in finding challenging follow-up roles, partly due to
 the myopia of Hollywood. She’s proven to be a potent force in several small screen projects, but when
 it comes to the big screen, directors and producers seem at a loss on how to use this uniquely talented
 woman. So I can easily see why she might have been drawn to portray Amanda in this film. The role
 requires her to really run a gamut of emotions and act up a storm, and she more than rises to the challenge.
 It’s just a shame that the story isn’t very good. There’s a very long and painful sequence set at a Polish
 wedding and its reception that is ridiculous and drags on for far too long, for example. And Amanda’s
 interaction with her oddball roommate feels grafted on from a terrible situation comedy.

         Although the film seemingly wants to impart wisdom mixed with New Age philosophy (something
 along the lines of positive thinking begets positives in our lives),
 ends up leaving the audience with more questions than it can answer.

                                   Rating:                            C
                                   MPAA Rating:                None
                                   Running time:                108 mins.
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.