Monday, March 16, 2009
Walking that tightrope as a critic
By Edward Copeland
Eons ago when I was in college or in my early days at a newspaper, I always hated reviewing theater. It's not that I couldn't do it. (Honestly, it's just art and music where I feel out of my element.) It's that something changes when you are in the same area as the artists or, even worse, know the people involve. Movies can be the same thing. It's easy to knock a Hollywood film when you don't know the players. So it's with trepidation whenever a beginning filmmaker such as David Spaltro asks you to review his first feature.
You hope the film, ...Around, is great or awful. There is even part of you that hopes the DVD malfunctions. Sadly, the answer lies between the two extremes and that is usually the most misunderstood reviews one ever writes, even more so when the person who made the film asked you to do it. So, before I begin, please understand Mr. Spaltro that, for the most part, I enjoyed your film but I do have problems with it and take what I say as constructive criticism.
For the rest of you out there, the old adage says write what you know and writer-director David Spaltro is definitely doing that with his first feature ...Around, which he made for less than $150,000, mostly on credit cards, and has been playing festivals and may soon get a limited theatrical release before going to DVD.
The ground he covers is familiar one as his filmic alter ego Doyle (Robert W. Evans) casts his sight from his Jersey City home and sets out to start a future in film school in Manhattan. Things never go that smoothly and as the years of his education pass, Doyle finds himself broke, homeless and with filmmaker's block. If all that weren't bad enough, he also falls for Allyson (Molly Ryman), who seems out of his reach and destined to always dwell in the realm of the unrequited.
The problems with ...Around, other than covering somewhat familiar territory, is that it is perhaps too autobiographical, going so far as to include the years in which the story takes place. This wouldn't usually be a problem, but it's not only unnecessary here but when you have a film whose beginnings take place in Manhattan in 2001, it's unseemly not to acknowledge what happened in September there, even if that's not what the film was about.
Having been in Manhattan shortly after 9/11 and having been there frequently, the people were fundamentally changed for awhile. Granted, part of the story concerns how self-absorbed Doyle is, that is not true for all of the characters in the film and the only allusion to the event was the brief sight of a banner saying that the Bush regime planned 9/11.
Another device that I think works against the film is the use of voiceover narration by Doyle. Usually, it just underlines what you would have discerned from the scene anyway.
Most of the acting is good, though Doyle's switch from good guy to aimless asshole late in the film seems to be abrupt. The best performance belongs to Ron Brice as a homeless man that Doyle befriends when he's sleeping in Penn Station.
...Around certainly has good things going for it, but Spaltro needs to get away from himself to decide what kind of filmmaker he'll really turn out to be.