There’s dumb and then there’s real dumb. Fortunately, local filmmaker Finn Taylor was smart enough to gravitate toward the latter in his latest movie, “The Darwin Awards,” shot in the Bay Area.
The film culls from the real-life phenom of the same name, which chronicles extraordinary urban myths. Named after the titan of evolution theory, Charles Darwin, the real awards are an annual honor given to people who give birth to the most head-scratching, often inane, accidents. The more adventurous (read: stupid) of the bunch sometimes manage to leap out of the gene pool entirely.
In the film, a befuddled homicide detective who faints at the sight of blood (Joseph Fiennes in a winning performance) nurses an obsession over these “Darwin cases.” He sets out to locate high-risk insurance candidates and somehow teams up with a fearless field agent (Winona Ryder) along the way. It’s like a post-modern “Road” picture sans Crosby and Hope but completely loaded with Taylorisms — the director’s offbeat humor and edgy style of filmmaking, something that saw his celebrity rise after 2002’s “Cherish” — are given even more room to breathe here. The good news? Taylor says he never tires of shooting in the Bay Area.
“I came to realize that in the amount of work that went into making these films, why not make them how you want them and where you want them?” he says. “I also like the idea of keeping things in the local economy and to work with the same people over and over again. You form this sense of community and I feel that it givesyou this familial connection that helps.”
In the case of “The Darwin Awards,” which he also wrote, that sense of family came in handy.
Ryder happens to be a San Francisco native. She lured pal/actor-musician John Doe of X into the fold. Talking Heads co-founder Jerry Harrison opted to make a cameo, as well as Metallica, another Bay Area fave. Then former California Gov. Jerry Brown heard of the project and allowed Taylor and company to film his Oakland office. Not to be upstaged, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom visited the shoot at City Lights bookstore.
The film also features a slew of well-known celebrities in quirky, memorable roles: David Arquette, Lukas Haas, Josh Kornbluth, Juliette Lewis, Juliana Marguiles, Tim Blake Nelson and Wilmer Valderrama, to list a few.
For Taylor, “The Darwin Awards” was another chance to let his work stand out.
“In the last 100 years, even in art films and foreign films, movies have had a very set structure,” Taylor says. “With all of our changes in technology, it’s not like there’s been this giant leap forward.
“I’m always trying to do something slightly different,” he says. “I like to throw in humor. But, at the same time, film is a craft and much like crafting furniture, it still has to have at least three legs to stand on.”