Saturday, March 22, 2008

Boston Underground Film Festival 2008: Quality Time

Friday's BUFF screenings were all about making sure I could see the movie with the familiar cast members - Corin Nemec, Nancy Allen, and John de Lancie; the neat story about how this movie had a crazy post-production life that started in India and didn't finish until days or hours before the film screened was just icing on the cake.

The 7pm show was "Technicolor Psychotica", a fun collection of shorts that were visually striking. I'll probably do a shorts roundup sometime after the features are finished.

Today is when I fall completely behind in terms of getting reviews done in a timely fashion, as I'll be camping at the Brattle from the 12:15pm show of La Belle Bête to the 11:55 Il Bosco Fuori.

Quality Time

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2008 at AMC Harvard Square #4 (BUFF X)

Those who stay through the end credits of Quality Time will note that it had an indirect path in actually reaching the screen - some pieces are copyright 1997, though it's having its world premiere at BUFF eleven years later. That's a long time to sit on the shelf, much longer than it deserves.

It features Stewart Savage (Corin Nemec), a resident of an ovecrowded future where the polar ice caps have melted. He lives with parents Jack (Bruce Weitz) and Linda (Nancy Allen), but they only have their apartment for half the day - at 6pm, they have to turn it over to Nathan Eastman (John de Lancie), his wife Victoria (Gail Strickland), and their son Victor (Jesse Harper). On top of that, Stewart is quite insane - he's just killed another girl (Meredith Salenger) and brought her home, convinced that he's bringing a still-breathing fiancée home for his father's birthday party.

The time spent on the shelf has allowed some of the visual effects to catch up to what director Chris LaMont envisioned when he first started the process, but even without the CGI, Quality Time would still take place in a well-imagined future, with little details like how Jack flips pictures around to prepare to turn the apartment over to the Eastmans selling an overcrowded world even though there's no way to do big crowd scenes. The shifts between how Stewart sees the world (brightly colored, slightly overexposed) and the way things are (grayish, a little grainy) are straightforward, but get the point across.

The actors, of course, vary their performances between the two main versions of reality as well - full of good cheer and free of any rough edges in the birthday party, frightened and angry in reality, and veering even further into black comedy when the film shifts to other venues, such as a Jerry Springer-esque talk show set when it becomes clear that Stewart isn't the only one with issues. I like how Nemec plays Stewart as fairly low-key even when he's killing or waving a gun around; it makes him seem even more genuinely disconnected from reality. Weitz and Allen are funny as his parents, acting as though their son's activities are mainly embarrassing; I particularly love how annoyed Jack seems to be most of the time. de Lancie and Strickland are similarly annoyed, just with no need to enable, and they're actors who are good with the sarcasm.

Most of Quality Time is good black comedy, and while sometimes the script (based on a stage play) gets a little obvious about which film, television, and stage conventions it is appropriating and lampooning, LaMont does a good job of not going too far overboard with that - it's not subtle, but it's not treating the audience like fools, either. Still, it's worth remembering that the audience responding well to it knew what they were getting into at an "underground film festival"; I can easily see people not liking it nearly as much if they came into it cold.

Strange has a place, though, and Quality Time is, for a movie about a serial killer in a dystopian future, an enjoyably light-hearted flavor of strange.

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