THE DROP (SARAH ADINA SMIITH)
Destination weddings can make everyone a little crazy. Even for a time that is meant to be full of celebration and love, there will always be madness that seeks it way through everything. Sarah Adina Smith’s The DROP is all about the uncomfortable and sends its characters on a vacation from Hell. Mani and Lex (Jermaine Fowler and Anna Knokle) are a happy young married couple who have been invited on a destination wedding Lex’s friends Mia (Aparna Nancherla) and Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur). The guests consist mostly of Lex’s college making Mani the fish out of water with this unusual group. Mani is certain that Lex is the one for him and he is happy enough to spend this getaway weekend with her. That is until however Lex offers to hold Mia’s baby during a simple luggage exchange and ends up dropping their infant daughter. Thus begins aa hurricane of reevaluating relationships, and a careful look at gender roles and expectations as well as the strangest friends you can ask for in this hysterical mostly improved comedy. Smith and co-writer Joshua Leonard (who also stars as one of Lex’s peculiar friends) have created a script that fully embraces the cringe. Lex’s friends are all self-obsessed and fairly privileged (and ignorant to the fact). Her friend Shauna (Robin Thede) and her husband (Utkarsh Ambudkar) work in television and are already set on using this horrible incident as a writing piece for their show. While Josh and his wife Lindsey (Jillian Bell), who own the resort they are staying at, are desperate to get any of their friends to invest in their hotel for they can one day return to the United States. And on top of all this you have Shauna’s adoptive son Levi (Elisha Henig) who spends his days counting how long he can go without self-pleasure. It is a fucked up group. The film is hysterical though and does a fantastic job at showing the reality of doubt that comes when even the most genuine accidents happen. Mani doesn’t know if he can see what Lex did as an accident and the question of even having children might be fully off the table. It is great to see so many improv experts really shine throughout, everyone gets their moment. The success of the jokes will vary for all, and the film finds a humorous but too sudden way to wrap up but this is the type of film that you will be watching on repeat while dreading your next vacation.
THE DROP PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION
NEXT EXIT (MALI ELFMAN)
What comes after death has been explored a ton in movies, but for such an intriguing question Next Exit is takes a dull path to find thee answers. Directed and written by Mali Elfman in her feature debut, the premise of the film seems like we are about to be given a more complex and quite frightening look at the great beyond. Instead, we are given a road trip movie along with moody horror and a romantic comedy. This is not a bad thing in fact multi-genre films can be exciting, but Elfman’s script juggles too much and always feels at a standstill. Scientists have discovered that we can now track people in the afterlife, this has led to a rise in homicides and suicides. It has also led to the ethical debates about people volunteering to be part of the studies which means allowing to be killed off for science. For Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) the answer is quite simple; they have nothing in life so why not try death. These two meet after a travel mix-up and must travel across the country where they will soon be killed off. Their trip like many road trip movies involve the usual obstacles but this time the inevitable death hovers over them both as they both harbor their own secrets that will soon come out. Parker and Kohli are both great actors, but their connection through the script is never believable, it all just feels as a means to an end. When their reveal secrets about their family life, much of the buildup is wasted on too convenient outcomes that leave some glaring holes in the story. For a film that wants to explore organized, atheism and spirituality Elfman never finds a coherent path. This is not an overtly complicated film, but far too many moments leave you confused based on exposition (there’s tons of it) that still leave you not following the film’s ideas. Elfman has taken on a difficult task, the life beyond life (if there is one) is not an easy feat, but hopefully for her next film there is a lot more concentration on making it all connect.
NEXT EXIT PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL.
DON’T MAKE ME GO (HANNAH MARKS)
Tribeca seems to love its road trip movies this year. Hannah Marks’ wonderful Don’t Make Me Go is a tender and loving look at a father daughter relationship as they travel across the country keeping secrets and trying to reconnect before things move forward beyond repair. Max Park (an always incredible John Cho) is dying. He learns early on in the film that he has bone cancer that if untreated will give him a year or so. Surgery can be done, but it is high risk “twenty percent” his doctor tells him. The first thing Max thinks of is his daughter Wally (Mia Isaac in her first feature and a remarkable new talent). It is just him and Wally since his wife left them when Wally was just a baby for Max’s best friend. It is a lot to take in especially when his relationship with Wally needs rekindling in typical teenage daughter to father fashion. Wally’s biggest concern is whether or not her crush Glenn (Otis Dhanji) wants to finally make it official, she is so smitten by him that she actually passes out when they kiss (at least that’s what seems to be the reason). Max like any father has to make the toughest decision, risk the surgery and possibly only have one week left with his daughter, or stick out the year and try to leave her with enough life lessons, money and another parent to help her through life. When Max decides the latter he makes Wally travel along with him in their worn down station wagon to go to his college reunion in hopes of finding his ex-wife and allowing her to truly meet her daughter. This however isn’t told to Wally, so in her teenage eyes is punishment for her recent behavior. Director Hannah Marks and screenwriter Vera Herbert do a great job and avoiding some major road trip movie cliches. For starters Wally is not a bad kid, this isn’t a trip to teach her how to be a better person, but more so to get as much time as a father can before it is too late. Cho and Isaac are fantastic together making every child to parent moment believable. They do not spend the whole movie pushing back on each other’s ideas on the contrary they actually welcome one another’s creativity and wisdom. As Wally learns more about the man who father once was she encourages him to find his old ways, and Max as much as he wants to keep his daughter on the usual path listens to her plans of wanting to skip college and travel the world. You can tell Max sees himself in Wally (like most parents) but instead of ignoring the truth he embraces it. Marks as a director keeps her camera close on her two leads and always homes in on the silent moments. A very strong choice since both these actors excel at facial expressions being their language. While the film plays safe in some areas and hits a few conventional notes it always does in such a loving and passionate manner that you realize that these moments are familiar because they are real. Big moments that also include the inevitable midway point fight are performed and directed with such sincerity that you practically feel yourself getting ready to call your own parents to apologize. The film will also bring about much discussion about a late entry reveal, but thankfully the film never relies its entirety on this moment. In fact, after allowing yourself to digest it all you realize it this choice is just another realistic moment in a film that thrives on getting things right. Life as we all know is incredibly difficult, but the moments we share will always be ours and we can replay them long after our loved ones our gone.
DON’T MAKE ME GO PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. THE FILM WILL STREAM ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO JULY 15
YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER (MARK SLUTSKY AND SARAH WATTS)
Coming of age stories come out in the dozens, especially at film festivals. To make one stand out it becomes less about what they are about and more on how they make you feel. Can they ignite those emotions and sparks you once felt or can at least recognize from your own life or from friends growing up. Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts’ YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER can easily remind you of first love and coming to terms with who you are and the way you are meant to love. However another element is implemented that may seem foreign to many. Set in a Jehovah’s Witness community, Jaime (Anwen O’ Driscoll) is sent to live with her aunt after a family situation becomes unlivable at home. Many may be unfamiliar with the practices and teachings of Jehovah’s Witness and the film does a good job and giving you a brief introduction of the limitations they instill and the preaching of religious obedience. Jaime is clearly an outsider in fact she has not accepted herself into ‘the truth” as they call it. She is clearly uncomfortable with the entire arrangement and teachings, but when she meets Marike (June Laporte) she feels an instant attraction that may make some of her time here bearable. Marike is devout to her religion and upbringing and the film does a good job at showing how young people can be taught at a young age to follow blindly which can often cause confusion and frustration later on in life. One thing that is certain though is the attraction Marike has for Jaime, and Jaime who feels it too is both excited and hesitate towards Marike going against what is definitely forbidden in her religion. Slutsky and Watts create some genuine intimate moments between the two that are built on female friendship and then sexual desire. The film however doesn’t explore and go into great depths of the situation at home. It quickly becomes like just any other coming of age story where the child feels lost and restricted by their surroundings. Jaime and Marike’s relationship is endearing to watch, but the film relies on the chemistry between its two leads which is there but hindered but very little to expand on. Marike has more depth, but Jaime feels like a stand in for every lost teenager. The religious aspect quickly becomes a caricature and the adults holding them back are almost cartoonish in their actions. The film also suffers from being yet another story where the ending is actually the start of the more exciting journey. You Can Live Forever is not some set up for a sequel but it would actually be more intriguing to see what happens next and not the usual story that preceded it.
YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION
WES SCHLAGENHAUF IS DYING (PARKER SEAMAN)
In a few years there were be too many think pieces about movies filmed and about during the pandemic. Especially the ones that incorporate the Covid-19 outbreak into their films. The question of whether we need them or not or if they are just capitalizing off a global tragedy is a fair one, but the answer will never be simple. Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying is one of those films that doesn’t ignore the pandemic, but uses it for their story however this is a self-aware quasi look at the independent filmmaking scene during the lockdown packed to the brim with enough meta jokes to keep even the Scream franchise on its toes. The film which was directed by Parker Seaman and co-written by Seaman and Devin Das is also a hysterical and heartwarming reminder that making films with your best friends is the most magical and chaotic process ever. It is also always worth it. Parker and Devin (playing mockery versions of themselves) like many came out to Hollywood to change the game through their independent cinema, so clearly this means they are stuck making commercials for the very brands they believe are ruining the industry. When the lockdown occurs they are in need of any work (like all of us) that thye take another commercial for Sketchies indoor shoes that will hopefully also start a TikTok trend as planned by corporate. But when their best friend Wes (Wes Schlagenhauf also playing a version of himself) reveals that he has Covid and could possibly die the two friends decided to visit their friend who now lives in Idaho. For their own benefit they have also decided to make this a perfect opportunity to document the journey and use it as their new film. Their agent is only on board if Sketchies can be used in some shots. The film uses conventional road trip movie moments to their benefit, as Parker utilizes the idea to make their film more appealing to the audience. Their trip is a riot and any film buff or obnoxious film twitter user will have a field day with the film, even if they don’t realize the joke is pointed towards them at times. The film has montages, a popular song choice and even a surprise guest that brings a very literal meaning to the term “cameo.” While the film is only 77 minutes it’s pacing flows well even if by the end you were hoping to spend more time with them. The antics that ensue are also ones that become clear after a while, but they never are eye rolling. Yes meta humor is practically overkill at this point with so many filmmakers not fully understanding their own humor, but Seaman, Das and Schlagenhauf have a few surprises in store for you that remind you why independent filmmakers have such a strong hold on the realistic and often unsexy world of filmmaking. Much like Jim Cummings’ film The Beta Test this is a movie that is not afraid to bring forward the problems while also realizing they too are part of the system. But above all else the film never forgets to show us that even in the absurd journey they take the friendship of these three is what will get them to continue to make art both good and bad. This is a film for anyone who has ever picked up a camera with their friends and claimed they were going to change the world with their work, but in reality had the most fun when they were just screwing around and loving one another’s company.
WES SCHLAGENHAUF IS DYING PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION
THREE HEADED BEAST (FERNANDO ANDRES AND TYLER RUGH)
Finding the right words is often an impossible task. When it comes to love words are not always enough. THREE HEADED BEAST directed by Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh have given us a poetic and stunning debut about unspoken words and love in modern times. Opening up with two men (Jacob Schatz and Cody Shook respectively) moving in a mattress into a small Austin TX apartment. As they embrace on the mattress no words have been spoken for quite some time and the experimental aspect of the film becomes clear. Even as one of the men goes home to his wife Nina (Dani Hurtado) the dialogue and plot are told through slight murmurs and actions. It is an intriguing choice and not only elevates the film it allows for those words that are too hard to be spoken be told through physical embrace. For anyone missing the good old days of sex scenes in movies this will be more than a fix. The scenes are far from gratuitous but they are realistic in showing how badly we need physical touch. And as the relationship becomes clear of being polyamorous there is still signs of lack of love between one another. As the film progress (still with no formal dialogue) tension arise but the directors use patience and wonderful Texas lighting to show that love seeks through every complication that happens. The film eventually finds its way to some spoken dialogue but once it does you find yourself wishing everyone would shut up. It delivers a truly brilliant and uncomfortable scene that brings this threesome together and some realization come forth. The film however struggles to find the same strengths that made the first half so compelling. It wraps up to a quick but somewhat powerful ending. For an indie debut this is exactly what you want though, micro budget filmmaking and an entire crew that clearly understands the work and is fully dedicated. This is the reason you go to film festivals. To not just discover something great but hopefully feel a sense of real truth.
THREE HEADED BEAST PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION