by Zac Sanford
The theme for this year's Newport Beach Film Festival appears to be "Characters in Crisis." Many of the characters have hit a rut - the mid-life stepping stone or even a quarter-life crisis - and are looking for a change to get out of it. Some will sleep their way to enlightenment, while others will hit the road to find their purpose. Each will be better for it in the end. I'm not sure I've changed much by watching these journeys.
Dreamworld: Everyone has had that moment of "Love at First Sight", and for Oliver Hayes (Whit Hertford, who co-wrote the script), he finds that moment in a chance encounter with a pixie named Lily Blush (Mary Kate Wiles). The connection is instantaneous, leaving the newly-employed Oliver questioning whether to take the ride up the coast for the chance of a lifetime to find his way into Pixar. Animation has always been his dream. The leads are charming and the chemistry radiates on screen, but as the miles rack up, personal demons come out, putting the new relationship to the test.
Free Samples: An episodic day in the life tale that is light on plot, following Jillian (Jess Weixler) as she hands out free samples from a frozen yogurt food truck. She's hung over, on a break from her college boyfriend and her studies in college. As people come throughout the day, little is done to shift Jillian's attitude until a chance encounter with a former actress and classmate start to stir her emotions and attitude, which she has a lot of. The sarcastic nature pushes most of the laughs, but it does get a bit repetitive towards the end. Thankfully Weixler is endearing and enjoyable in the cranky role.
Magic Camp: Young magicians duke it out in this heart-warming documentary at the famous Tannen's Magic Camp, held yearly at Bryn Mawr College, where the boys far outnumber the girls. The camp allows the kids to not only practice their skills, but to connect to others who share their passion and desire to entertain. While some of the aspiring magicians become homesick, others spend their hours practicing their acts to perfection to enter the final battle of the top five magicians. The film was awarded the prize of Outstanding Family Film after having its world premiere at the fest.
The Woman in the Fifth: A dark and moody thriller for the first two-thirds of the film, it completely falls on its face for the last part, leaving many of the mysteries open and unresolved in the end. Even if the mysteries set forth in the film are never fully answered, the film does contain some amazing performances from Ethan Hawke as a author who moves to be closer to his daughter, Kristin Scott Thomas as a mysterious woman with some stringent rules on when and where they can meet up for their affair, and Joanna Kulig as Hawke's soul confidant.
Save the Date: Two sisters are polar opposites. Beth (Alison Brie) prepares for her wedding to the man she loves, who just happens to be in a band with Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), who wants to pop the question to her sister, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan). Beth pushes Kevin not to pop the question, knowing that it will end in heartbreak. But what is the big deal? Kevin and Beth just moved in together, so it seems to be the next logical step. But Beth is in a totally different mindset. Even as she prepares to move out, she questions her decision on this commitment. Once Kevin pops the question during his band's performance at a sold-out concert, he is left alone, only to have the entire moment broadcast across the net. Beth must balance her newly single life, a blossoming relationship and another possible life-changing moment. A hilarious romp with a fun soundtrack, Save the Date just recently landed distribution with IFC films.
Ira Finkelstein's Christmas: Ira loves everything that has to do with Christmas. Problem is, he's Jewish and hasn't even seen real snow in his entire young life. While on a layover to visit his grandparents (which he haven't seen in years), Ira meets up with another kid who is on his way to Christmastown, WA. The two swap identities and set out for their ultimate destinations. If you're able to get over the fact that the airlines mix up the kids and the other family members don't remember what the kids look like, it is a heart-warming tale about dreams and family. The only thing bogging down the film is a subplot involving Ira's father (David DeLuise), who is producing the most awkward and embarrassingly bad Christmas film since Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Summer Song: While Alexa Vega sizzles on screen as the talented musician at the center, ultimately this film crawls at a snail's pace as melodrama drags it down. Beautifully shot in Cape Cod and with a running time of under eighty minutes, the film could have used an editor other than writer/director Aram Rappaport. I don't require films to be straight-forward in storytelling, but many scenes didn't seem to add to the overall forward thrust of the narrative. You can only watch a father or a bible-thumping brother over-act and be abusive so many times before it becomes dull and boring. Sometimes blood is not thicker than water, especially when you have dreams you'd love to achieve.
Adventures in Plymptoons: A hodgepodge of clips, interviews and admiration of the king of weird animation, Bill Plympton. What? Never heard of him? While Bill has flown under the radar of mainstream success, he has been an inspiration for many artists over the course of a long and twisted career. While the production values may be a little sub-par, if the film had delivered a high-quality and pristine flick, it really wouldn't have been in the spirit of all things Plympton.
Lola Versus: Greta Gerwig, one of the reigning queens of the indie film scene, shines as the titular character, Lola, another twenty-something going through her quarter-life crisis while juggling love and a career in New York City. While some may blow this off as a younger version of Sex and the City, the film has some heart buried in the trysts between the sheets. A full review is forthcoming when the film is released this June by Fox Searchlight.
Servitude: Like Waiting and Slammin' Salmon before it, Servitude is another in a long line of films about the disgruntled wait staff at a restaurant on the verge of change. Even though this film is an export from our neighbors to the north, don't expect a polite and light comedy. Instead the film holds back nothing and delivers some of the biggest and most offensive laughs of the entire fest. Be on the lookout for the almost unrecognizable Margot Kidder and a handful of other Canadian comedy mainstays.