Adrien Brody has been accused of having made quite a few bad film choices over the course of his career, but perhaps none of those choices have been as maligned as 2002's Dummy. The story, written and directed by Greg Pritikin (who really hasn't done much else since then), follows the extremely pitiable life of Steven (Adrien Brody), a 28 year old who works in an office and lives with his parents. His best friend Fangora (Milla Jovovich) is not in a much better position either. In many cases, her situation is worse since she has to live with her belligerent and ailing mother who is constantly screaming at her to pick up her prescription from the drugstore. And, while Steven at least has a soul-crushing office job, Fangora (or "Fannie," as her mother calls her) has no source of income.
So far the plot is sounding fairly normal, right? The protagonist has a dismal life and relies on his only friend for relatability in a town where nothing ever happens. But throw ventriloquism into the mix, and things always become a bit creepier. We don't know much about what Steven was like or how he functioned before the introduction of the dummy into his life, we only know that, within minutes of the film's opening, he feels compelled to buy a dummy after watching an old Hollywood movie. Evidently, his lifelong dream has been to become a ventriloquist.
Around the same time he starts practicing his act, Steven gets fired for fucking up the copy machine, though it's clear his boss was just looking for any excuse to get rid of Steven's awkward, gawky ass. Enter Lorena (one of Vera Farmiga's earlier roles, and probably one she's slightly ashamed of in the wake of critical acclaim for films like Up in the Air and The Departed), an employment counselor Steven must see as part of his quest for a new job. He shyly admits to her that the sort of work he's looking for would ideally include use of his ventriloquism skills. Instead of being totally fucking freaked out and put off, Lorena is actually sort of beguiled by Steven. One woman's psychopath is another woman's Casanova I suppose.
In the midst of all this, Steven's family (best described as Partridge Family zany mixed with Royal Tenenbaums repressed) serves as an explanation for why Steven is so maladroit. His sister Heidi (the much underrated Illeana Douglas) is recovering from a broken off engagement and coping with the fact that her ex is the type of guy who would jump out of a bush and stab you, his mother (the always enjoyable Jessica Walter, best remembered for playing Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development) is obsessed with making sure Steven always has a sandwich, and his father is consumed with making model ships. So yeah, not the most conducive environment for elevating one's self-confidence.
For all intents and purposes, Dummy is truly one of Adrien Brody's best role choices. At least better than the roles he had in The Village, Hollywoodland, Splice, and King Kong. I think what made this film seem so odious to critics was that it was released the same year that The Pianist came out, the film that won Brody an Oscar. In comparison, people viewed the existence of Dummy as something that was in offensively bad taste. I mean, to them, it was like Brody was almost diminishing the Holocaust by trying to cash in with another movie about ventriloquism--which is why people who star in Holocaust movies shouldn't be in another movie for the rest of the year. But maybe now that there's some distance from the overlapping of The Pianist's and Dummy's release, Dummy can be revisited and seen for what it is: One of Brody's best independent film roles.