Monday, January 14, 2013

John Daschbach's faux friendship movie, BRIEF REUNION, hits theaters (briefly)

Remember way back in the days when Netflix actually cared about serving its customer base? When its rating system offered a middle star (out of five) that indicated the movie was "just so-so,"  a category into which most movies indeed fall? Of course, this meant that most of Netflix movies were rated only just so-so, which meant that members would not necessarily rush to put these films on their list. How much "smarter," then, to change that third star to the category called "liked it," where it remains today. So on Netflix, just as on Rotten Tomatoes, you aren't allowed to have mixed feelings about a film; you either "liked it" or you "didn't like it." Bullshit. But then that's our great big world of (no)truth-in-marketing.

I bring this subject of Netflix and the just so-so rating up from time to time, as both a deserved dig at this trend-setting service, as well as to highlight certain movies that fall directly into the just so-so category, as does the film under consideration today: BRIEF REUNION.

The film's first-time-full-length writer/director John Daschbach (shown at right) has managed to make a movie that, for every good thing we see (and there are plenty of these) there seems to be something equally negative.

Eventually the movie sort of cancels itself out. It isn't a waste, exactly. You'll remember some good about it. Yet, overall, the whole thing doesn't exactly work. Or, when it does -- kind of -- it doesn't work all that well. As you can imagine, this kind of movie experience is a frustrating one. There is one undiluted plus: The scenery (the movie was filmed in Vermont and New Hampshire) is always verdant and lovely.

We know from the beginning -- the opening shot features star Joel de la Fuente, above left, in heavy disarray -- that something is terribly (and a little too heavy-handedly) wrong. Then we're having dinner with Joel, his wife (the just-seen-last-week), Alexie Gilmore, (above and below) and their friends. Enjoy this scene, as it is literally the only pleasant few moments in the rest of the movie. In these, the group chats and laughs and dishes and giggles, and a warning is given about a fellow from their old college days who is suddenly back in the picture but is not to be trusted. Or dealt with. At all. Under any circumstances.

Now what kind of a movie would we have, were a warning like that to be heeded? Exactly. So, when that old friend (Scott Shepherdbelow) shows up the next day, our hero, de la Fuente, barges ahead doing everything he shouldn't and sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss. Predictable? My god, yes. But not uninteresting, either. And because the plot line involves social media, suspicious software and the way so many of us live now, the film possesses a certain attraction.

The casting, right down the line, is good, too. While it's nice to see an Asian-American actor performing in the lead role, de la Fuente, who seems to have done most of his work on TV and is serviceable and attractive, doesn't quite fully deliver. On the other hand, his character, as we slowly learn, is a weak, lying, frightened, cheating creep, so of course we can't identify much. (Or can we?)

Ms Gilmore is fine as the confused wife, and Shepherd makes his sleazy character someone whom we really and fully dislike. (The actor, if not the character, gets to redeem himself via a nice surprise toward the finale.) The women characters -- including Raven Pierson as our hero's secretary, Francie Swift as his old girlfriend, and particularly Kristy Hasen (below, left) as the girlfriend of the "old friend" -- are a lot more sympathetic than the two main males on view. This unbalances the movie but, again, also makes it a bit more interesting.

Coincidence rears its head, typical in this kind of film, and as it moves ahead, events pile up so suddenly and swiftly that some credibility is lost. And yet, still, we hang on. Until, finally, a character that we initially imagined we knew and maybe cared about, literally and symbolically disappears on us. Brief Reunion is a frustrating experience. I can't say I'm sorry I saw it; but as good as it sometimes is, it really needs to be better.

The film opens this Friday in both New York City (the Quad Cinema) and Los Angeles area (Laemmle's Noho Seven). If you're not near either big city, never fear: Brief Reunion will be coming soon to iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, and the aforementioned Netflix.

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