(2020) Comedy (Sleeper Cell) Jennifer Prediger, Justin Kirk, Nishi Munshi, Maya Stojan, Tory Devon Smith, Rainbow Underhill, Erica Hernandez, Jim Holmes, Terryn Westbrook, Cyd Strittmatter, Frank Cappello, Shaughn Buchholz, Aaron Conte, Miles Dausuel, Amit May Cohen, Max Goudsmit, Neel Ghosh, Jolene Kay, Charley Koontz, Aimee McGuire, Anna Shields, Michelle Nakamoto. Directed by Meghan Huber and Wyatt McDill
I would assume at least some of my readers have attended a local fringe festival (and here in Orlando we happen to have a good one). For those not in the know, fringe festivals are a festival of short, generally experimental or avant garde performance media, generally theatrical in nature although some fringe festivals also include short film screenings. Fringe performances are meant to push the boundaries a bit, sometimes dealing with uncomfortable subject matter, sometimes involving audience participation, sometimes being really weird and way out there. Fringe festivals are something of an acquired taste, one I’m sad to say that I’ve never acquired and I’ve been to a few, mostly in California.
This piece is essentially a feature length fringe festival film involving married couple Samantha (Prediger) and Travis (Kirk). They are struggling actors and writers, originally from the Midwest but gradually coming to the realization that they are approaching 40 and have nothing to show for it. They have one last shot – a TV show they have developed about a self-sustaining farm – which they have pitched to a fictional network. If this doesn’t click for them, they have decided to leave L.A. and move back home and start a different life.
But there’s good news and there’s bad news for them; the series is picked up. Yay! But the network only wants Travis, finding Samantha to be too unlikable. Boo! This puts a strain on their marriage as Travis continues on with the show, getting more and more disillusioned as the network changes their original concept into something completely unrecognizable. Meanwhile, Samantha is looking to put on a piece from their younger days, entitled The Alien Play and after auditioning a group of actors from a long line of really bad actors, settles on a group of highly strung actors who, like Samantha, haven’t found success yet Samantha is turning into a drama teacher as well as theater director, and as Travis gets discouraged, she gets more energized.
But wait! Is that what’s really happening? Co-directors McDill and Huber leave that extremely open-ended, presenting the story as a series of short vignettes that have an audience, generally a very small one. We are left to wonder whether this is reality or performance or a clever mix of both, and the filmmakers leave it to the audience to decide which. That’s to the good. Also to the good is Prediger, who has just enough of an edge to be interesting, but not so much as to be unlikable. She has some real screen presence and has a good deal of potential, kind of like a poor man’s Tina Fey.
But this is often a slog to watch. The dialogue is flat out bad; it is like the dialogue you’d find in a badly written community play. Now, that might well have been done on purpose, but it gets extremely annoying, as does the hand clapping and melodica blowing in between scenes. What probably sounded like an original idea on paper becomes on film somewhat gimmicky and overbearing. Less is definitely more.
I can’t say as I enjoyed this film very much, but take that with a grain of sand – as I intimated earlier, I’m not a big fan of fringe theater to begin with and that is a personal preference. The acting here is decent and the idea would be intriguing if the execution wasn’t so annoying. It comes off a little bit pretentious, like a Fringe performance without the intelligence, innovation or humor. Chalk this up as a noble failure.
REASONS TO SEE: Prediger has some real potential.
REASONS TO AVOID: Real. People. Don’t. Talk. Like. This. Very much like spending 90 minutes with people you can’t stand to be around.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Huber and McDill are a married couple.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING:Your local fringe festival.
FINAL RATING: 4/10
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