Thursday, May 01, 2014

Independent Film Festival Boston 2014.03: Big Significant Things, Palo Alto

As I look through Amazon to look at products to pair with the reviews to break the text up a little, it strikes me that the film industry as a whole will be missing a chance at genuine whimsy if Roadside Attractions does not pick Big Significant Things up for distribution.

BIG SIGNIFICANT THINGS director Bryan Reisberg & producer Andrew Corkin

Speaking of Big Significant Things, that's director Bryan Reisberg on the left and producer Andrew Corkin on the right. Corkin, it turned out, had another film he produced in the festival, the very funny Wild Canaries, so he's having a good year.

Reisberg, meanwhile, talked about how Harry Lloyd and Krista Kosonen were the only people who were not cast locally, with some of the cast coming together because one had his wife and daughter along at the audition, and pulling them in gave the convenience store that the main character stops in its vibe.

Not mentioned: That Harry Lloyd is English and of no relation to silent film star Harold Lloyd, although it made me wonder whether he would have had to choose a stage name had the two been around at the same time. I wonder if anyone else in the room liked silents enough for it to be disconcerting.

No guests for Palo Alto, just some in-jest "whose ready to meet James Franco? Tough, he's not here!" I must admit that I was kind of surprised at just how many second-generation Hollywood types were involved in this. I didn't recognize Emma Roberts at first - as I mentioned in the review, I spent much of the movie wanting to know just who she was before realizing she was something of a veteran at 22 when the credits rolled - but did recall that Jack Kilmer was Val's son. A little more digging through the IMDB revealed that one character was played by Michael Madsen's boy, and it made me really start to wonder if there was some sort of club, clique, or network that celebrity kids got together in that Gia Coppola could draw from.

Also: Val Kilmer has a small role as the stepfather of the girl that Jack Kilmer has a crush on. That's got to be right next to the line where this sort of casting is kind of gross, right? As in, if he had played April's birth father rather than stepfather, the audience would not have been cool with it.

Big Significant Things

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

There are many ways to have a good road trip; you can do it by sticking close to a map and itinerary, let your whims guide you, or do something in between. There are many ways to mess one up, too, and while looking down on the places you go and people you meet there doesn't exactly ruin things, it can make the experience kind of hollow in retrospect. Not having that attitude, I think, is what makes Big Significant Things a small gem; it's not about putting anybody in their place.

The fellow making the road trip is Craig Harrison (Harry Lloyd), a young man from New Jersey about to move to San Francisco with his fiancee Allison. She's already out there looking at houses, but he is driving through the South, on his own despite telling her he's chauffeuring people for work. And while he's kind of enjoying just looking at several World's Largest Things, what really winds up catching his eye is Ella (Krista Kosonen), a Finn playing guitar and singing at a bar's open mic night who seems just as put off place as he does.

Craig has a specific end point in mind, although it looks like his brother Joel (like Allison, heard on the phone but not seen) is not going to meet him there. That's important; it marks him as trying to get back to something as opposed to escaping while also highlighting that he's struggling with something that neither he nor his loved ones quite understand. Maybe his life just seems to be moving too fast; the graduation tassels hanging from his rear-view mirror are only three or four years old. Or maybe he's worried about how this move will make him a part of her life rather than the other way around, considering where their families live. Writer/director Bryan Reisberg never addresses Craig's primary issue directly, but he also doesn't do much to hint that Craig is running from something especially terrible, and making it easy to project ones own anxieties (present or remembered) onto the situation doesn't hurt.

Full review at EFC

Palo Alto

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

That James Franco always seems to have more ambition than one would think should have stopped surprising me a few of his less mainstream projects ago, but it hasn't. It should no longer shock to see another member of the Coppola clan making movies, either, but there seems to be a near-inexhaustible supply. So we probably shouldn't raise our eyebrows at Gia Coppola making a movie from Franco's Palo Alto Stories collection - although if you want to resent that it turned out pretty good, I imagine people will understand.

So what's going on in Palo Alto? Well, Teddy (Jack Kilmer) has a crush on April (Emma Roberts) that seems to be reciprocated at least a little. The thing is, Teddy hangs out with Fred (Nat Wolff), and while he doesn't need Fred's help to get in trouble as when he's involved in a fender-bender that gets him a hundred hours of community service, Fred certainly facilitates it. April, meanwhile, is babysitting for her soccer coach (Franco), whom the other girls say has designs on her besides making her the team's striker.

There are a fair number of second- and third-generation Hollywood folks in this movie: Gia is the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, while Jack Kilmer's father Val has a part as April's stepfather. And yet, despite their being relatively new to this, it might be the veteran of the legacies, Emma Roberts, who is the biggest surprise: This is probably the meatiest role she's had in a career that stretches back to when she was ten, but she plays it effervescently, easily charismatic enough to deflect other characters' cynicism and come off as down-to-earth despite being the prettiest girl in a competitive environment, but she's also good enough to impress with April's insecurities and implosions without coming across as simply neurotic. It's the sort of performance good enough to have me asking "who is that?" throughout the movie so that I could make a note for later only to be surprised by a name I'd seen associated with lesser parts.

Full review at EFC

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