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By Doug Brunell | April 4, 2004

The biggest problem with this movie is that its live theatre roots show. It is the product of two of writer Fred Newman’s plays: “The Store: One Block of East Jerome” and “Mr. Hirsch Died Yesterday.” With the kind of dialogue and stock characters found far too often in plays, it’s a hard film to really dive into.
The film centers around Tillie Hirsch (Judith Malina), a writer who has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. We get to learn a bit about Tillie when a reporter points out that her fictional stories about real people don’t really meet the traditional definition of stories because “nothing really happens.” (As if you didn’t catch the film’s title the first time, you’ll be exposed to it on quite a few other occasions.) Tillie eventually crosses paths with Paula Brownell (Mary Round), a professor who is studying strippers, and one of her subjects named Carmela (Madelyn Chapman). From there we learn that nothing really does happen, though there are some definite bright spots in the boredom.
Malina is perfect for the role of Tillie. She brings her to life and makes her believable. And then there’s a flashback to Carmela as a teen and a family reunion that has to be seen to be believed. The reunion gets out of hand very quickly and disintegrates into a striptease that ends with Carmela asking her father to perform some oral sex on her. Malina and the flashback are very powerful elements, but they are stuck in a film that can’t support them due to a few major flaws that really bog it down.
The characters of Brownell and Carmela are so two-dimensional that they are distracting (as is Chapman’s accent, which may or may not be real — it definitely is cliched, however, and is as tired as her dialogue). The story, which is really just one of those slice-of-life pieces that live theatre writers seem obsessed with producing, goes nowhere. It’s totally character driven — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but these are not interesting characters.
“Nothing Really Happens” may be worth checking out for a few of its stronger points, but there are far better films out there. It does beat watching paint dry, however, though I doubt that is much of a selling point.

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