Sunday, June 3, 2012

REVIEW: I Don't Want To Kill Myself

Northside Film Festival’s DIY Competition
June 20th, 5:40 PM

I didn't write the review I was intending a while back, but I spotted that the movie is being screened later this month at the Northside DIY Competition, which will be screened on June 20th at the Nighthawk Cinema. So, I can tell you about this fantastic movie. Hooray!

OK, so straight up, the extremely bleak title (perhaps an heir to Wristcutters: A Love Story) is not as bad as it sounds. The story is this: The young main character, James (Luke Humphrey) pretends to try to kill himself to cover for a DUI for his friend Coop (Mike Steinmetz), and is sentenced to go to a suicide support group, run by the good-hearted but eccentric Vanessa (Carleigh Welsh).

There, he makes close friends with the glib jokester Aaron (Luke Sacherman) and forms a relationship with the frosty and jaded Emily (Martini Connelly). At first, it all seems like a joke, but as the reality of what a suicide support group can be like, it disrupts all of those relationships in radically different ways.

And along the way, it's absolutely hysterical (sometime bitterly so, but sometimes just plain funny), and absolutely real. It threads the needle very well, because it takes suicide seriously -- never making light or being offensive towards people who have deep issues in their lives -- while still finding what's funny and absurd about this world.

Is there room for another bitter-sweet comedy about young people thinking the world is ending? Turns out, if the movie is this one, yes.

The great thing about both the screenplay (by Colby Day and Nathaniel Katzman) is that you're not watching generic characters go through this story (with the possible exception of James, who seems like the everyman entry into this world). The characters are vividly painted and crafted, and the moments -- which flow in a very true to life pace -- shine lights on very small aspects of life that are just pleasing to watch.

Take, for example, the character of Coop. He's not actually one of the main characters of the piece, and his relationship to James is at best a side plot. Luckily, the filmmakers have brought together some of his moments together into a 5 minute clip:

Watching Coop's relationship to this sign-flipping job, and how he relates to his friend through it; watching Coop's perverse reaction to other peoples' suffering, watching how he relates a story at a party -- it all has a great rhythm that makes even content which is not the world's most heightened drama enjoyable and worth sitting with.

Another great example is Vanessa, the group leader. Her character begins the movie as a running joke -- a purely comic character whose eccentricity provides some great laughs. But as James' relationships deepen from a superficial understanding of other people around him, so too does Vanessa become truly three-dimensional -- still extremely funny, but from a place of truth. She's not just eccentric -- she's driven to extremes because of the extremely high stakes. She needs one -- just one -- of these suicidal young people not to kill themselves.

Lastly, I couldn't close out this review without talking about Aaron's incredible performance. Like the movie as a whole, he manages to be exceptionally funny until those moments when he needs to reveal a deep serious pain, and without him, the third act of the movie probably fall short.

It's always interesting to see a movie like this, because I have a tendency to forget how many small worlds there are inside of this world; each of which reveals the broader world through the areas which it takes to extremes. The world of rehabilitation (which I also enjoyed viewing through the lens of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) is useful, because it grapples with this central question -- how much can people expect to change themselves, and what do we have to hope for? The only answer the movie can proffer is that it's really just a trust in other people and a connection to those people that can bring us through.

See, it's not all just jokes about how hard it is to hang yourself properly.

CHANGE: Steady State, and The Pace of Change

So the question that comes to me is: what if this is it? A lot of us invest a lot of time in being semi-professionally upset about things. We want change! We want it now! What if, though, there won't be any significant changes? What if the new movement in theatre is here, it's now established and this is it? We've landed at Steady State: Broadway is a place for mass entertainments at a price set for tourists, Off-Broadway and the regionals will continue to cater to an aging, upper-middle class audience with the occasional feint in the direction of diversity, the indie scene will remain largely segregated by class, race, gender and sexuality with occasional cross-pollination, and theatre will, in general, continue to hover in this place, this narrow, wobbly space between being a luxury good for cultural elites and something that connects to a wider audience. What if that's what we can expect for the duration? It does seem fairly resistant to change. Oh, we have our little flare-ups, dust-ups, scandals, donnybrooks, but pretty quickly, order is restored. The natural order of things re-asserts itself and the whole system spins on. 
So. What if this is it? What do we do then?
That's the question that anyone who wants to create change will always wonder -- whether what we want to change can actually change, or whether we're running down the game clock.

I've wondered it about theater. I've wondered it about personal relationships -- addictions, personal failings. I've wondered it about politics.

In politics, we often see a lot of strongly engrained systems that seem difficult, if impossible to move. The United States political system remains largely driven by monied interests, even in the centuries that have passed since only landed white gentry could vote. And yet, from time to time, surprising things happen and things change. Unfortunately, there's a 50/50 chance you won't like that change.

The real question is, what's the pace of change? From year to year, everything seems remarkably resistant to change. But within 100 years, we can see some pretty big changes.

Personally, I'm not afraid that what we have is a Steady State. I'm more afraid that I'll have to wait a long time for change, and once we've waited for that change it won't be what we wanted.

Friday, June 1, 2012

UPDATE: The Window

I recently reviewed The Window, a performance piece at the Romanian Institute. I recently received word that it's been extended for the following dates:

June 5 through 7, 8.30 pm – 10 pm 
June 12 through 16, 8.30 pm – 10 pm 
June 18, 8.30 pm – 10 pm – Grand Finale

Details here.