Feature

Cold Souls

In filmaker Sophie Barthes' comedy debut, Paul Giamatti, who plays a fiction&shy;alized version of himself, decides to have his soul removed so that he will agonize less over his performance in Chekhov&rsquo;s <em>Uncle Vanya.<

Directed by Sophie Barthes
(PG-13)

**

Paul Giamatti has his soul removed to help his acting.

Cold Souls could have been a weird “little black-spirited comedy,” said Tasha Robinson in The Onion. But it lacks soul. In this metaphysical head-scratcher from first-time filmmaker Sophie Barthes, Paul Giamatti plays a fiction­alized version of himself. Struggling with his role in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Giamatti comes upon Soul Storage, a company that promises to extract his soul and leave him feeling “lighter and less bothered by life’s weighty emotions.” The first mistake Barthes makes is casting Giamatti as himself, which makes it hard to see Cold Souls as “anything but an attempt to parrot the giddy success” of Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. The similarities are unavoidable, but Barthes has “firm control” over her conceit, said Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.com. Her film is “both less ambitious and less overtly tortured than Kaufman’s is, and, in the end, more moving for it.” Like life, the filmmaker suggests, Cold Souls isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. “This is a comedy, not a philosophy lesson, and thus richer in bafflement than in understanding.”

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