The premise of “Cold Souls” is a good one, but unfortunately its execution does not mine the inherent comic possibilities as deeply as it could have. “When you get rid of the soul everything makes so much more sense,” is the advice given to Paul Giamatti, who plays an actor named, of all things, Paul Giamatti. The fictional Giamatti, an angst ridden New York actor playing an angst-ridden character in a production of Chekhov’s play “Uncle Vanya,” decides to unburden his soul by putting it in cold storage for a while.
What “Cold Souls” neglects to do is set up the rules of this world. At certain points in the story Giamatti a. has his original soul, b. gives up his soul and c. tries someone else’s soul. Now, since a soul, to my understanding, represents a person’s essence, shouldn’t all of this soul manipulation have a significant effect upon the personality of the person doing it? Shouldn’t he maybe become ruthless when he losses his soul and a completely different person when he has someone else’s soul? I mean isn’t that where the comedy should be? The problem I had with “Cold Souls” is that Giamatti seems to be just as miserable in every scenario. Granted there is a small amount of change, but the film needed to push it more. Similarly at one point an actress, eager to get ahead in her career, steals Giamatti’s soul (she wants Al Pacino’s but its not available). The result is that she becomes successful and happy. Well why is this the result? Wouldn’t it have been a lot funnier and interesting to see this actress, a young beautiful Russian woman, take on the angst of a 47-year-old New York thespian?
“Cold Souls” reminded me of a comic take on John Frankenheimer’s excellent film “Seconds” (1966). Similarly, in “Seconds,” a jaded New York City commuter sells his soul, figuratively not literally, via a business arrangement with a New York based company, for what he thinks will be a better existence, only to realize later that he wants to have back his old life. The difference is that in “Seconds” we see and feel the emotional outcome that the change has caused the protagonist. While clearly the tone of a film like “Seconds” is wrong for a film like “Cold Souls” there should still be more of a comic, demonstrative outcome of the main character’s decision than there is.
“Cold Souls” does have some laughs though. David Straitharn is very good and funny as the doctor in charge of the soul storage company. There’s a joke about saving tax on soul storage by having the soul stored in New Jersey, jokes about being soulless (which here obviously takes on a literal meaning) and jokes about the business end of soul storage.
Over all though “Cold Souls” is sluggishly paced. It drags where it should be up and moving.
“Cold Souls,” director Sophie Barthes, 2009,
2 Lane Pictures, 97 minutes, PG-13