(2015) Drama (Wet Paint) Michael McDowell, Julie Dunagan, Lance Megginson, Hosanna Gourley, J.W. Buriss, Parker Townsend, Carole Midura, Michael Francis Paolucci, Alec VanOwen Nance, Carlise Dixon, Tammy Bason, Jeffrey Fetts, Deborah Keller, Dena Bleu, Samuel Hoggs, Bruce Florence, Melissa Stuckey, Karen Reynolds, Mara McCaffray. Directed by Clay Riley Hassler
When we think of homeless people – assuming we think of them at all – we tend to view them with distaste; dirty, smelly, drug-addicted drunks who are colossal failures at life. They are in the predicament they are in because they’ve made terrible choices, or have been massive screw-ups. We rarely feel sympathy and if anything, we would rather sweep them out of sight, out of mind.
Gosh (McDowell) – pronounced “Josh” – is not like that. He’s a teen who has fallen through the cracks. His father is in jail, his mother out of the picture. He has been raised by his grandmother (Midura) since his father was jailed but now his granny is dead and gone; he has nowhere to go, nobody to take him in.
He goes to a homeless shelter whose rules are overly restrictive. He spends his days trying to apply for jobs that he can never get without a place of residence. He hangs out in places where he can hang out without being thrown out on his ear. Being that it’s Christmas time, indoors is preferable as the weather outside is frightful. Being inside though is not so delightful.
It is inevitable that the shelter throws him out on his ear. He goes to a mall for shelter and while sitting in a food court is approached by Tina (Dunagan) who is handing out free samples of bourbon chicken at the Chinese food kiosk in the food court. She takes the time to talk to him and helps him get a job standing outside the mall in a sandwich board pimping the eatery. She also puts him up in her home when she finds out he doesn’t have anywhere to go. There he befriends her son and begins a relationship with Krystal (Gourley), a local waitress. He’s amassing a good deal of cash. Things are looking up.
But Tina has financial problems of her own and having an extra mouth to feed, particularly a teenage one, is putting an unbearable strain on her. She makes a choice that will have terrible consequences on Gosh.
At this year’s Florida Film Festival, two films dealt with homelessness in America. While the first movie (see below) dealt with the issue in an urban, African-American environment, this takes a look at the problem in a smaller city (Winston-Salem) and while some of the Catch-22 issues of the first film are present in the second, they are different movies entirely.
Like in Imperial Dreams, the lead performance is strong. While John Boyega is a superstar in the making, McDowell doesn’t quite have the same screen presence – yet. However, he does deliver a compelling performance that grabs the attention of the viewer from beginning to end. Gosh isn’t always the most likable of characters. He is, after all, a teenager and sometimes he does things that make you want to bang your head against the nearest stone wall. However, he’s caught in a situation that few of us will be able to relate to and likely would handle less well than he does. There’s some awkwardness in his personal relationships, which is to be expected in someone his age. He has his hopes and dreams but his dreams are quite basic; for shelter, love, acceptance, food…things we take for granted.
Hassler captures the boredom of homelessness. There isn’t much to do all day but wait around, read a newspaper perhaps and wait for calls from potential employers that never come. The loneliness that Gosh undergoes is easily discernible, and heartbreaking. At one point he is so heartsick he can barely respond to those who are trying to communicate with him; it’s absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.
The score reminds me somewhat of the music of Peter Gabriel which is a very good thing. While I thought the movie could have used a bit of trimming, it takes on an important social issue that deserves further imagination and does it well. Some might find it to be too much of a downer, and to be honest the introduction of Tina’s son into the mix is unnecessary and adds nothing to the story. Still, this is a solid movie that deserves to be seen, one of many such at this year’s Florida Film Festival. Hopefully it will catch some sort of distribution and either make it to home video, broadcast or even a theatrical release. If so, find a way to see it.
REASONS TO GO: Fine performance by McDowell. Terrific score. Tackles an important social issue.
REASONS TO STAY: Relentlessly grim. Feels too long.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult themes and some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was entirely filmed in the Winston-Salem area over 25 days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Imperial Dreams
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: I Am Thor