I saw three different narrative features this past week at Los Angeles Film Festival that were set in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. I live in the area, and it was cool to see familiar spots captured through different eyes.
How to Cheat was amazing, and the cast deservingly went on to win Best Performance in the Narrative Competition. The story follows a couple in their 30s attempting to have a child and stars Amber Sealy (who also directs), Kent Osborne (awesome guy, who also starred in Joe Swanberg's Uncle Kent) and Amanda Street. As pregnancy becomes less and less of a reality and their relationship starts to crumble, Kent's character turns to online dating in search of the perfect affair to bring happiness back to his life. (Unexpected consequences ensue.)
Several scenes took place in areas close to the Silverlake Reservoir, and there were insert shots of traffic along the 101 freeway between Alvarado St. and Silverlake Boulevard. I loved how the movie portrayed Silverlake and its inhabitants in an optimistic, though gritty way. No character seemed particularly happy with life, but no one was ready to throw in the towel, either. The movie's also laugh-out-loud hilarious at points, though the drama stings hard and rings true throughout. Shot on next to no budget and without a script (!) I really can't speak highly enough about this movie. Hopefully, it will be available to a wider audience soon.
I couldn't resist being drawn to the premise of L!fe Happens: Krysten Ritter, Kate Bosworth, and Rachel Bilson in a female, metahipster version of Three Men and a Baby set in Silverlake. I really wanted to have an opinion on this movie, negative or positive, though it left me lukewarm. The acting was fine, the movie looked great, and it was cool to see familiar Silverlake haunts like Casbah Café, Silverlake Yoga, Intelligentsia (the best coffee spot), and more.
The story, however, seemed uneven. The movie felt like it kept flip-flopping back and forth from wanting to be a broad, silly comedy to a pilot for a heartfelt Showtime dramedy, only drawn out to 101 minutes. It made me think back to a quote from Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer that goes, "the mixture of true and false yields falsity." I wish the movie had committed to being either more broad and silly or more grounded and realistic. It's tough to buy into the reality of the world as it is.
(At the beginning of the movie, the main characters blast Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty" out of their car as they drive through the eastside. I'm pretty sure this was to make them look all hip and ironic. Instead, it really just comes off as two white chicks listening to a dated rap track that's also one of the most popular ringtones of all time. Now if they were listening to Odd Future...)
I don't want to be too much of a hater, though. Krysten Ritter proves she's a great actress and deserving of many more leads. She's funny and beautiful, and I wouldn't be surprised if she became a big star. For Kat Coiro's first time directing, what she was able to pull off is really impressive. She creates a vivid and original depiction of Los Angeles' eastside, and if I had the power to hire her to direct a single-camera comedy for TV, I'd do it in a heartbeat. There was also a hilarious sex scene worthy of any Apatow comedy...
Entrance stars Suziey Block, a barista in Silverlake as Suziey, a barista in Silverlake. The story's about Suziey, who mysteriously loses her dog and is then sent on a slow burn towards brutal horror. It was great to see Silverlake Coffee, the Silverlake Dog Park, the corner of Griffith Park Ave. and Hyperion Ave., etc., on the big screen. Suziey holds the screen well, and is believable throughout the movie. I'd sign off on her starring in big budget horror films like Halloween or anything with zombies, no problem. Beyond her presence on screen, I found it really tough to like this movie. It was mostly boring and then just silly by the end.
***WARNING: SPOILER ALERT***
For about 60-70 minutes, not much happens and the film feels flat: Suziey's at work, Suziey plays with her dog, Suziey engages in mundane interactions with her roommate -- mumblecore at its most mumblecorey. There are a couple of encounters that border on creepy -- of the "ohmigod, is that car following me?" variety. Then her dog goes missing, she stays in bed a lot, has a one night stand with some random guy, and decides she wants to leave LA. (Again, this is mainly what comprises close to 60-70 minutes of screen time.) At no point does the viewer really get a feeling of what Suziey yearns for or a sense of what's at stake for her. It's just her in her element, mostly bored and alone. Then, her friends (who are barely developed or are not developed at all by this point) throw a going-away party for her. At the party, people are having a good time until... wait for it... an axe murderer shows up, professes his love to Suziey and fucks up everyone else's world! This would have been so funny if the movie didn't take itself so seriously. I love the idea of a Hipster House of Horror "mumbleGore" extravaganza. The horror scenes were just a punchline, though. It's a shame because they were really intense and well put together. If 60+ minutes of the movie was at the dinner party/blood bath and the rest was set-up, rather than the other way around, this movie could have been epic.
I'll admit, I'm not the best person to judge horror films. I don't watch a ton, but one that really worked for me was Hostel. The first 30-40 minutes was all about developing the characters in a foreign land. They were ordinary college dudes in Amsterdam, and we really got a sense of who they are and wanted to be in the world. Then, just as the viewer starts to feel for the characters, they're exposed to the most horrific things imaginable, and we're with them through the gore. Since the characters in Entrance were never fully developed, I didn't really care that they ended up victims to a crazy axe murderer. Instead, it was just funny seeing flannel-clad Silverlake hipsters with axes in their backs, though I doubt that's what the filmmakers set out to accomplish.
Follow Abe Schwartz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbeSchwartz