SXSW Film Review: See Girl Run

2012 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
89 minutes

****

In his collection of essays entitled “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs,” Chuck Klosterman astutely observes that “dynamic, nonretarded Americans… all seem to share a single unifying characteristic: the inability to experience the kind of mind-blowing, transcendent romantic relationship they perceive to be a normal part of living.” For this, he chooses to blame John Cusack. (For the sake of argument, John Cusack is interchangeable with his character in “Say Anything”.)

John Cusack is not a fairy tale prince. He’s just a really nice guy. That’s why it may seem perfectly reasonable to want to “hold out” for a John Cusack of your own. But in actuality, John Cusack is a completely unattainable romantic ideal, which has made every “dynamic, nonretarded American” believe that if they don’t have a boom box serenade, they don’t have anything. Nate Meyer puts Klosterman’s idea into practice with his carefully crafted film, “See Girl Run”, by using the mold of a Hollywood romance to show how damaging these notions are when taken too seriously.

Robin Tunney plays, Emmie, a self-employed thirty-something who is experiencing a downswing in her marriage. Thanks to ongoing correspondence with her high school sweetheart, she allows herself to get swept up in the idea that she’s been missing out on her Happily Ever After. Unbeknownst to her husband (Josh Hamilton), she auditions for a reality show about reuniting lost loves, naming Jason (Adam Scott) as the one who got away. When the casting director dismisses her application on a technicality, Emmie decides to take the reunion into her own hands, and heads back to her small coastal hometown in Maine to pursue what might have been.

Meanwhile, Jason has been slumming it at a lobster restaurant, while he obstinately chases his pie-in-the-sky dreams of becoming a professional illustrator and reuniting with Emmie. He’s stalled his life for years, never fully committing to anything or anyone. He’s the personification of the undisturbed childhood bedroom. Adam Scott’s effortless charm invokes empathy toward a delusional character that might have otherwise been insufferable.

Jason and Emmie share a consuming sentimentality and a confidant in Emmie’s brother, Brandon. Meyer tells the story through the perspective of the would-be lovebirds, letting the detriment of what they’re doing speak for itself. At first, Brandon lets Jason and Emmie’s juvenile shenanigans distract him from his own issues of depression, alcoholism and a freshly botched marriage. But, as Emmie continues to put off seeing Jason, literally hiding from him on several occasions, Brandon must be the voice of reason for these two foolish saps. Emmie and Jason have cast themselves in a formulaic romance. If this were a Hollywood film, we would be expected to root for them. But Meyer’s refreshing script reflects the reality of their actions in the peripheral characters.

There is a reason people say, “marriage is work.” It’s because once the initial luster wears off, you’re left with two flawed people who have entered into a partnership. Sometimes, you love your work and sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. But it’s never going to be perfect because there’s no such thing. John Cusack is the disease. Just maybe, “See Girl Run” is the antidote.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SXSW Review: Sunset Strip

2012 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
94 minutes

****

You might not think Sharon Stone had much in common with Kelly Osbourne, Lemmy and Paris Hilton (other than relative fame). But you’d be wrong. The thing they have in common is the Sunset Strip, the road that stretches a mile and a half through West Hollywood and has been making history for over 100 years. Every inch of it has a story. As Mickey Rourke puts it, “Your dreams will start there and they will end there.” Hans Fjellestad’s documentary, “Sunset Strip,” is a thorough history of this street of dreams and nightmares, beginning with its origins as a trade route, up to present day where ambassadors from each era converge. The film shows you a fascinating, glamorous, decadent and tragic place, filled to the brim with amazing tales. If you have even a passing interest in movies or music, you will be absolutely riveted for the full 90 minutes.

The Sunset Strip has been a perfect microcosm of Hollywood since actors first pulled up a stool at Schwab’s Drug Store whilst “waiting for the gravy train.” So many legends walked those streets that it’s practically hallowed ground. Marilyn Monroe met Joe Dimaggio in the same airspace that Lemmy currently occupies at the Rainbow. Rock and Roll was born at the Whiskey A Go Go with Johnny Rivers. Later, the Who, Led Zeppelin and the Doors rocked that same tiny stage. River Phoenix spent his last night in the same building in which the Pussycat Dolls later revived burlesque. Comedy Gods were born at the Comedy Store, where Robin Williams, Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison shared bowls full of cocaine snorted through $1,000 bills before going on. Buffalo Springfield wrote “For What It’s Worth” about the same protest, which also saw Peter Fonda arrested. I could go on, but it’s really more fun to see it for yourself.

Fjellestad employs a very casual interview style, piecing together the chronicle of the Strip through musings from the people who were there. Actors, comedians, musicians and business owners from every generation get a chance tell their part of it. The story flows naturally through the decades, packing each part with entertaining vignettes as well as a nice overview of what was going on then and how it reflected or reacted to what was going on in the rest of the country. It’s as if grandpa managed to sneak a history lesson into his awesome anecdotes.

Not every interview subject is equally enthralling. A too-serious Billy Corgan seems like he’s there only to promote his new music. The film opens with Fergie belting out “Barracuda” live on stage, like a stripper channeling Ann Wilson while Slash diddles around in background. It’s a decent enough performance, but it doesn’t feel like it has much to do with anything other than to prove that Fergie actually knows how to sing. But these moments are few and far between. Most of the interviewees are so compelling that it becomes immediately apparent why they got famous in the first place. They belong to the Strip and the Strip belongs to them. The rest of us are just visiting.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SXSW Review: Lovely Molly

2012 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
95 minutes

**

What is it with demons and video cameras, anyway? The found footage horror movie is seriously overdone. Can we please stop? It’s not even that scary anymore.

To be fair, the director of “Lovely Molly” (Eduardo Sanchez) is the guy who started it all when he brought us “The Blair Witch Project” way back in 1999. In his latest film, he mixes home movies with video footage shot by videographers (both seen and unseen) as well as traditional narrative filming. The result feels like a “Greatest Hits” of camcorder horror. And some of those hits aren’t even all that great.

The film opens on Molly (Gretchen Lodge) not looking so lovely. She cries into the camera about the terrible things she’s done against her will. She holds a knife to her own throat, but claims that an unseen force won’t let her end her suffering.

The opening credits play over happier times: a video of Molly and her husband, Tim, on their wedding day. It’s not just the supernatural that loves video documentation. I don’t know if demons are drawn to camera happy people or if possession brings it out of them, but folks in these movies constantly film their lives. You can bet that, during an intense moment, someone is going to tell Molly to “stop fucking filming.” Between her own camera and some security footage from her work as a custodian in a mall, there’s barely a moment Molly isn’t on camera.

Despite all the terrible memories it conjures up, Molly and Tim are forced to live in Molly’s childhood home, a creaky old thing in the middle of nowhere that is absolutely riddled with terrible rooms. There is a haunted bedroom with a dark closet, a dank basement, a tiny attic, a shed with an ominous green chair and a spooky horse shrine in a crawl space. Because Molly and Tim keep the place sparsely decorated it looks more like a museum to Molly’s abusive past than a newlywed couple’s love nest.

Screenwriters Sanchez and Jamie Nash try to keep the audience guessing about whether an evil entity is actually stalking Molly, or if she’s merely a victim of drug abuse and mental instability caused by childhood trauma. But they tip their own hand several times with some pretty standard supernatural shenanigans. The plot that unfolds is essentially a possession paint-by-numbers.

When their alarm goes off in the middle of the night, Molly and Tim call the cops. Naturally, despite the fact that the couple definitely heard something banging around downstairs, the officer on the scene sees no sign of forced entry. He’s equally useless every time Molly calls him back to investigate the escalating bumps in the night. This guy obviously aced “Cliché Explanation 101” at the Academy because he blames both “the wind” and “some neighbor kids” on what’s been happening before leaving Molly to her own devices.

The writers do their best to address the typical plot holes about why people don’t just move the fuck out when they suspect that they may have supernatural roommates. They’re too poor for Tim to quit his job as a truck driver, which keeps him on the road. She can’t see a doctor about her blacking-out-and-waking-up-naked problem because they can’t afford health insurance. She refuses to stay with her sister because she doesn’t want to impose. It never occurs to them to sell the place or try to rent it out. Besides, it’s only a little ghost rape. I’m sure it won’t get any worse.

For a while, the plot is just one long list of excuses in between inaudible whispering, lights popping on by themselves, disembodied crying and the occasional sexual harassment of a priest. Eventually, blood starts to flow as Molly’s Equine Ghost Dad brings her deeper and deeper into the abyss. Terrible things happen for no other reason than to be shocking. I have to give Lodge credit for her performance, which is an absolutely balls-out one. I just wish she had been given something a little more worthy of her talent.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).