Thursday, December 5, 2019

Daniel Schechter's AFTER CLASS (aka Safe Spaces) makes good on a 13-year-old promise

If there's a better ensemble dramedy this year than AFTER CLASS -- the new film from writer/director Daniel Schechter -- I haven't yet seen it. Beginning with a scene in a college classroom in which a professor goads a student into speaking more truthfully about a short story she's written, and in the process spilling the beans regarding some of her sexual activity, the movie starts out fast, fresh and full of energy and keeps its delightful pace going for all of its 93 minutes.

The "promise" TrustMovies refers to in his headline above is that of a wonderful movie -- the embodiment of what a true piece of American independent cinema can be -- entitled The Big Bad Swim that came out in 2006, the terrific screenplay for which was written by Mr. Schechter, who went on the adapt and direct the under-rated Life of Crime and now this new little gem. Schechter, shown at right, has a real gift for witty, fast-paced and utterly believable dialog and also for storytelling using ensemble casts.

The filmmaker gives everyone in his ensembles the chance to shine by making even the smaller roles full and resonant. He also has the smarts to give his characters just about as many annoying traits as charming ones, and he scrupulously shows us various sides to the many different characters and situations he creates. And, boy, does he create a bunch of them.

Beginning with a crash course in political correctness that of course crashes down on our chief protagonist -- played to perfection by the near-consistently marvelous actor Justin Long, above, left, in what may be his best role so far (and, no, it's not Tusk) -- the movie moves on to family matters. And what a family we have here.

There's Long and his rival brother (Michael Godere), sweet/sour sister (Kate Berlant, above, right), dying grandmother (the grand Lynn Cohen, below, right) and his mom and dad (played so very well by Fran Drescher , shown at bottom, center, and Richard Schiff). This is one of the best conceived, four-generation movie families to be seen in some time: They're funny, witty, sad, smart and always real, and best of all, while their Jewishness is alive and well, it is never beaten into the ground. It's simply a part of them, and so it eventually becomes part of us, as well.

After Class (which was initially called Safe Spaces, a better title, I think) bubbles along in high gear for its entirety. There's not a low point in the whole film, and its high points are so many they tend to simply run together, keeping us smiling -- and thinking -- throughout. Who's right and who's wrong are never crystal clear, not in matters of family, political correctness or sexuality. This, along with splendid performances, dialog and direction, makes After Class one of the most entertaining and surprising movies of the entire year.

From Gravitas Ventures, the film opens this Friday, December 6, at 16 theaters around the country. Here in South Florida, it will play the Cinema Paradiso, Hollywood, and in the Los Angeles area at Arena Cinelounge and Galaxy Mission Grove; Orlando - Old Mill Playhouse; Cleveland - Tower City Cinemas; Boston - Entertainment Cinemas Leominster; Minneapolis - Emagine Rogers 18, East Bethel 10 and Lakeville; Seattle - Galaxy Monroe; Dallas - La Gran Plaza 8; Reno - Galaxy Victorian; Las Vegas - Galaxy Theaters Luxury and Galaxy Cannery; San Francisco - 4 Star Theater; and Santa Barbara - Galaxy Colony Square. If you don't happen to live in any of these locations, good news: After Class will simultaneously be available on VOD via iTunes

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