Sunday, April 17, 2011

DIY: Ana Zins' HEAD OVER SPURS IN LOVE proves an alternately perky/jerky rom-com

How you find distribution for a relatively standard romantic comedy without any "names" attached?  That's the problem facing filmmaker Ana Zins and her new movie HEAD OVER SPURS IN LOVE.  If you find that title a bit much -- not really all that funny or germane to much that we see in the film, which is based mostly in Texas with a family/business named Spur, but so what? -- you should know that it reflects the movie all too well. This is a typical romantic comedy in which the meant-for-each-other lovers are kept apart for the entire film due to barely-believable plot machinations and character flaws, none of which finally matter because, well, love conquers all. Shot in 21 days (18 in L.A. and three in Texas) on an under-one-million budget, with the director, Ms Zins doing triple duty as producer and co-writer (with Sheryl Umayam), the movie is not a bad example of rom-com. In fact, it's a perfectly OK genre time-waster -- but one that offers little that's novel or original and that might induce unusual word-of-mouth.

Compare this with one of my favorites in this genre -- Seven Girlfriends -- and you'll see exactly what I mean.  That one has a great premise and script, terrific performances, and solid follow-through. Even then, and with a bunch of "names" in the cast, it never found theatrical distribution here in the US and had to rely on cable broadcasts to build its audience.

Ms Zins, shown at right, has certainly used her budget to good effect. Every dollar shows. And she has cast the film well, with an eye toward good chemistry between the actors, as you'll read in her intelligent and thoughtful explana-tion, below. Her actors -- from left to right, as shown the poster above: Leena Huff, Daniel Bonjour, Jen Lilley and Jesse Wayne Johnson (son of Don Johnson and Patti D'Arbanville) -- are all good-looking, appealing performers who can act, so there's no problem there. It's what they are given to say and do that makes the movie less than it might have been. The dialog is prosaic at best and seldom rises above that. The worst example is the speech Mr Bonjour must give from the podium at the pre-wedding dinner. It's meant to be embarrassing, and it is -- but it's also not funny or very believable. And it goes on and on.

Visually, the film is generally unremarkable, as well, though there are a couple of very funny visual moments along the way. One of these involves waking up from a debauched night-before wearing Santa Claus attire, the other using a hotel porter in a very funny manner to gain access to a locked hotel room. The film could have used more of this sort of thing to add the necessary com to its rom. The romance is certainly there, thanks to Bonjour and Huff, who make a very appealing pair. Lilley and Johnson are less so, mostly thanks to her obnoxious character traits which go completely unremarked upon, not to mention unpunished (well, this is rom-com) and his being given a character who changes direction/
motivation/intention on a dime.

Around two-thirds of the way through, a new character is introduced, and for a few moments the movie seems to perk a bit: a different color palette is introduced, along with an actor (Hal Ozsan) with excess energy and a crazy accent. There's some been-there/done-that satire on Texas (guns, homophobia and Christianity) along the way and by the feel-good ending, if you've got a bone in your body that responds to romantic comedy, it will be reacting, mildly at least.

But how will you ever see this film so that your rom-com bones get the chance to react?  Head Over Spurs... was recently shown as part of the Los Angeles Women's International Film Festival at the end of March and, according to the director/producer, all involved are now waiting to learn if the film has been accepted in any other upcoming fests. I would think that chances for theatrical distribution remain slim, but there is always DVD, VOD and streaming possibilities.

After receiving the screener of the film (but before viewing it), I asked its director about her film's provenance and why she chose to use unknowns in the cast. Below is what she had to say:

When I chose to make this picture, I knew, based on my experience as a Screener for some of the top-tier festivals, that commercial-mainstream indie romantic comedies have a tougher time getting programmed, hence getting that crucial buzz needed to gain industry attention. Festivals tend to be drawn more toward avant-garde, counter cultural, dark films and documentaries. Which is great, but I was determined to stay true to my sensibilities as a filmmaker, and I love romantic comedies. I also knew casting unknowns for the leads was going to be an uphill battle when it came time to getting the film out into the market place. Distributors want movie stars, especially in romantic comedies. But for me, chemistry between the actors was key, and the more established talent wouldn’t even consider auditioning for an indie film unless we made them an offer up front, which could have been disastrous without the right chemistry. So, I was willing to take a chance on up and coming talent, and I’m confident my decision will pay off. Once people see the movie and these actors, I know they will love it.     .....Ana Zins

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