In Edgar Allan Poe's terrific short story William Wilson, the title character tells us that the name he is using is a pseudonym because he hates his true appellation: "[It] has been already too much an object for the scorn -- for the horror -- for the detestation of my race." Gregory Wilkes, the main character in the new independent film Last Day of Summer, set to premiere in New York City on September 17, feels the same way about his name, so he calls himself "Joe." As his female captive informs him when he inadvertently lets his real name slip, Gregory Wilkes is a legend at the high school they coincidentally both attended, she later than he. An unfortunate private incident involving Gregory and a common natural urge had been surreptitiously taped in study hall. It is clear that the name Gregory Wilkes will forever be an object of scorn.
Joe, played expertly by the talented actor DJ Qualls, sees himself as a failure, "a meaningless stain smacked against the birth wall we call society," and it is no wonder why. The highest he has gone in life is to be a janitor at a greasy hamburger joint; and to compound his misery, his boss is a sadistic browbeater of near epic proportion. Bossman Mr. Crolick goes so far as to shove Joe's arm elbow-deep into a filthy toilet in order to instruct him how to thoroughly perform his duty. But is Crolick (William Sadler in an oddly comic turn), who flaunts his superiority over Joe so relentlessly, really as different from Joe as he thinks he is? A curious subplot addresses that question.
As a prelude to his planned personal "days of rage," Joe spends twenty minutes on the Internet to find potential allies in murder: Middle Eastern gun merchants. But even they belittle Joe, as they laugh at him after ordering him to drop his pants to ensure that he is not already armed. He has only about $140, so the bad guys sell him "a junior gun for a junior man." Watching Joe seethe over every insult is not easy, for he reminds us of every slight we have ever been slapped with by those who consider themselves our betters.
Joe is so insecure and frustrated, he will pick up and exaggerate every word and even every look pointed his way. Stephanie, played by Nikki Reed in a strong and emotional performance, makes the mistake of giving Joe an unintentional come-hither glance. Before too long, he has her tied up in a motel bathtub. Joe is not psychotic, but damaged and desperate and, he believes, at the end of his rope. His fantasy is to go Scarface (yes, he has a poster in his room at his parents' home) at the burger joint. As he and Stephanie -- will she or will she not succumb to Stockholm syndrome? -- converse and commiserate at the motel, Joe starts to reevaluate the length of his emotional and psychological rope.
The writing in Last Day of Summer is sometimes a bit too much over the top, probably to take the edge off such a tough situation; but overall, director Vlad Yudin's feature film debut is a decent little indie movie, worth watching at least to enjoy the strong acting of DJ Qualls and Nikki Reed.
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