- 'Searching for Sonny'
We reviewed just about every feature playing at this year's Indy Film Fest, which runs July 19-29, picking out our favorite from each slate to review at length and devoting about a hundred words to every other film. Head to indyfilmfest.org for complete schedule info, including shorts packages, workshops and other miscellany.
Searching for Sonny (dir. Andrew Disney, 95 min)
★ ★ ★ ★ At the big high school reunion dance, Calvin needs to divert attention from his partners, so he tears off his breakaway tux and runs through the crowd naked shrieking, “Distraction! Distraction! Everybody Look! Distraction!” Later, after being captured by the authorities, he shuffles down a hall wearing pants and a shirt borrowed from one of his colleagues. “Gary,” he says flatly to the fellow, “Your clothes feel like loneliness.”
Searching for Sonny is a broad comedy/mystery that is genuinely funny and consistently engaging. Written and directed by Andrew Disney, it mixes genres adroitly, aided by a screenplay consisting of credible interactions and moments of sheer goofiness. You can spot various influences in the film, but the production steers clear of the tiresome hipper-than-thou approach common to many recent indie comedies. Thanks for that, folks. Instead of an hour and a half of disaffected wisecracks, Sonny offers madcap situations, relationship stories and dashes of film noir, with a spiffy score including homages to spaghetti westerns.
Pizza deliveryman Elliot (Jason Dohring from Veronica Mars) feels like a loser for failing to make something of his life (when he thinks of Jesus he gets depressed, because Christ got so much more accomplished by the time he was Elliot's age). He returns to his hometown for his 10-year high school reunion after received an invitation from his longtime estranged best friend Sonny (Masi Oka from Hawaii Five-O).
After meeting up his fraternal twin and certified loser Calvin (Nick Kocher) and downbeat classmate Gary (Brian McElhaney), discoveries are made. Sonny is missing! The husband of the most beautiful girl in class (Minka Kelly of Friday Night Lights) has committed suicide ... probably, but circumstantial evidence could make it look like Gary killed him! There's a criminal conspiracy involving the former high school principal (Michael Hogan from Battlestar Galactica). Even freakier, all the insanity happening around them matches the events in a high school play written by Sonny! Egads!
The plot may sound convoluted, but ... actually, it is convoluted, but it seems plausible enough as the story rolls along. There are a couple of moments that strain credulity even for a broad comedy. Suffice to say that no one on Earth would believe the attempt at evidence manipulation would actually fool anyone, and the guys, even in full panic mode, would never have believed what happens during a freaky encounter in a store. Neither scene hurts the film in the slightest, by the way.
Though the whole cast is able, the standout is Nick Kocher as Calvin. Kocher frequently turns the character up to 11, but manages to keep him human and sympathetic — quite a feat. Also of note is Cllarke Peters (The Wire), who provides the narration, which at times is reminiscent of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
- 'An Oversimplification of Her Beauty'
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (dir. Terence Nance, 94 min)
★ ★ ★ ★ Let's say filmmaker Terence Nance made a “fictional” short movie called How Would You Feel? a few years ago about his almost-relationship with Namik Minter and decided to revisit it, adding new footage including various styles of animation to further examine the details of his borderline romance. How would you feel? Oversimplification is a challenging, wildly ambitious feature, at times reminiscent of Richard Linklater's Waking Life, but wholly its own creation. When I first heard the over-enunciating narrator delivering an overwritten narrative I feared I was in for a cavalcade of pretentiousness, but Nance keeps his tongue firmly in cheek and, most importantly, everything about the production rings true.
Gayby (dir. Jonathan Lisecki, 89 min)
★ ★ ★ ★ Rewarding tale of best friends Jenn (Jenn Harris) and Matt's (Matthew Wilkas) decision to make a baby together. Their relationship is not romantic — among the reasons, he's gay — though they love each other dearly. The pregnancy tale is funny, sweet, honest and more detailed than you would expect and the stories of Jenn and Matt's various relationships are just as entertaining. The sex scenes are actually sexy, save for the one depicting Jenn and Matt's first attempt at impregnation, which is both humorous and wince-inducing.
Kings of Yorktown (dir. Darren Marshall, 99 min)
★ ★ ★ ★ Brothers Ed (Matthew Rhode), Richard (Collin Ware) and their friend Henry (Ryan Andrew Balas) team up to rob a small town bank in the affable comedy/drama/caper/relationship tale written and directed by Darren Marshall. After securing jobs at the bank, the brothers cozy up to co-workers Elizabeth (Deirdre Herlihy) and Annette (Beth White). Before long, their lives and criminal plans become considerably more complicated. The combination of a solid screenplay, well-written (not over-written, thank goodness) characters and an appealing cast makes for a likable genre-hopper that plays well from beginning to end. Thank you, Mr. Marshall.
- 'See Girl Run'
See Girl Run (dir. Nate Meyer, 89 min)
★ ★ ★ ★ Emmie (Robin Tunney) never officially broke up with her high school boyfriend Jason (Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation). Her husband Graham (Josh Hamilton) is a fine man, but the spark is gone in the marriage, so Emmie heads for her small Maine hometown with visions of Jason dancing in her head. Writer-director Nate Meyer's film hits all the right notes without sacrificing its integrity. Don't let Adam Scott's presence mislead you; while there is humor in the movie, this is not a comedy. If you're in the mood for a nicely-written, well-acted study of life choices, See Girl Run satisfies.
Arcadia (dir. Olivia Silver, 90 min)
★ ★ ★ Writer-director Olivia Silver's road trip movie follows a dysfunctional family from New England to California through the eyes of 12-year-old Greta (Ryan Simpkins), traveling along with her older sister (Kendall Toole) and younger brother (Simpkins's real-life brother Ty). Dad (John Hawkes) promises that Mom will join them in California, but his upbeat tone fades, revealing a increasingly short-fused man dealing with a lot of tension. The low-key story is well-acted and interesting enough, though there's not a lot of room for Hawkes (Winter's Bone) to show off his considerable range as an actor.
Cinema Six (dir. Mark Potts, 85 min)
★ ★ ★ Would everybody please stop making movies inspired by Clerks? Cinema Six sets their take on Clerks's dirty talk/insults/bonding/arrested adolescent template at a movie theater. As far as these sort of films go, this is better than average. The personalities of some characters change from moment to moment, particularly Gabriel, who seems reasonable in some scenes and cartoonish in others. The storylines are cliché, but the dialogue has as many winning exchanges as cringe-worthy ones, and the cast is both likable and capable. Look for a very well-written cameo by Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure).
- 'General Education'
General Education (dir. Thomas Morris, 85 min)
★ ★ ★ Brightly photographed peppy comedy. Levi (Chris Sheffield) just got a tennis scholarship. Alas, he fails a class and can't graduate high school without going to summer school, a fact he plans to hide from his parents (Janeane Garofalo and Larry Miller). There's a teenage love story too. Aside from a couple moments when gays and lesbians are referred to angrily (thanks for the slice-of-life bigotry, director/co-writer Tom Morris), General Education is a genial mix of light comedy and bits of family drama. Skylan Brooks is fun as Levi's young sidekick, and Garofalo and Miller make a surprisingly credible couple.
Crazy Eyes (dir. Adam Sherman, 96 min)
★ ★ Zach (Lukas Haas) has money. He's divorced and has a son. He runs around LA with his best friend (Jake Busey) taking whatever drinks or drugs are handy, getting laid and being a self-pitying ass. Currently he's fixated on Rebecca, AKA “Crazy Eyes” (Madeline Zima), because she won't have sex with him. The film presents a portrait of the denizens of the LA nightclub/party scene that feels authentic. Points to writer-director Adam Sherman for that, but who wants to spend an hour and a half with unsympathetic characters and unrelenting ugliness with no apparent point? Nihilist chic is so tiresome.