Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk


The scene is a monster.

(2017) Musical Documentary (Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop (narrator), Jello Biafra, Laurence Livermore, Tim Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Brett Gurewitz, Ian Mackaye, East Bay Ray, Fat Mike, Ben Weasel, Kirk Hammett, Lars Fredricksen, Mike Dirnt, Sergei Loobkoff, Kevin Seconds, Penelope Houston, Tre Cool, Duff McKagan, Kamala Parks, Honey, Miranda July, Ginger Coyote. Directed by Corbett Redford

 

The nature of music is that every so often there comes a confluence, a mixture of talent, opportunity and inspiration that coalesces in a single location. The rise of Motown in the 60s, the British invasion, the Seattle grunge scene, the jangle pop scene in Athens, GA, the Madchester era and the Minneapolis of Prince, the Replacements and Soul Asylum are all examples of this.

There are other scenes that are evergreens; they are generally large cities that have a steady influx of talent. Los Angeles, New York City, London and San Francisco are all consistently churning out great artists and inventing (or reinventing) new sounds. Sometimes these large city scenes are like black holes, drawing in everything in a 50 mile or more radius.

The East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area has always existed on the edge of San Francisco’s orbit. While Oakland has always had a thriving rap scene, the suburbs of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties have largely been garage band territories that have from time to time produced some fine bands.

During the 80s as the punk phenomenon was in full swing in San Francisco with bands like the Avengers, the Dead Kennedys and Flipper making important music something happened; the scene began to fade as hardcore skinhead bands began to suffuse the scene in violence. The editor of seminal punk ‘zine Maximumrocknroll Tim Yohannon wanted a venue that punk rockers of all ages could watch their favorite bands in safety – but also gave the bands the freedom to be themselves. He found such a space in Berkeley in a converted warehouse at 924 Gilman Street.

The 924 Gilman scene became a thriving punk scene that supported a wide variety of bands. The most famous bands to come out of the Gilman scene were Rancid and even bigger was Green Day whose success became a sticking point for many of those who felt that signing with a major label and making any sort of money was in effect selling out.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong approached Corbett Redford who went to high school with him looking for archival footage from the halcyon days of Gilman for a film that Armstrong wanted to make documenting  the scene. Not only did Redford have the footage that Billie Joe was looking for, he volunteered to direct the thing as well.

The result is one of the most exhaustively thorough music documentaries I’ve ever seen. Essentially chronicling the story of San Francisco Bay Area punk from its early beginnings to the break out success of Green Day in 1994, the movie contains footage of the bands who played the Gilman regularly and interviews with literally hundreds of people associated with the scene, from the musicians who played there to the volunteers who worked there to the writers who covered the scene to the artists who grew out of the scene. The film clocks in at about 2 ½ hours so it’s not something you sit in without some sort of commitment.

The length of the movie may be daunting to some; it’s hard to sit through 155 minutes of talking heads and snippets of songs but the frenetic editing pace makes it palatable. In fact, I was left wondering if with additional footage this couldn’t have been a mini-series rather than a movie although I have to admit a movie was an easier sell to something like Netflix than a miniseries based on a specific scene. Still, one has to admire the passion of all those involved from the filmmakers to the interviewees who made this happen.

The footage is in many cases extremely rare and unavailable anywhere else. For me, there was a nostalgic appeal in seeing bands like Operation Ivy, Neurosis and Kamala and the Karnivores, bands that figured in my Bay Area rock critic days and who now existed for me only as worn-out cassette tapes and memories – until now.

Redford utilizes animation sequences masterminded by Tim Armstrong of Rancid fame that recollects the artwork of the great punk zines. The animations are some of the best and most entertaining segments in the film and are worth seeing on their own.

One can’t understate the importance of Gilman as the ultimate expression of the DIY philosophy and of taking the punk ethic to the next logical evolutionary step. Not everything that came out of Gilman was amazing and life-changing but there was always an energy that radiated from the bands that played there regularly that were not present anywhere before or since. The Gilman is still there; some of the people who have been there since the beginning are too but for the most part, it’s a new generation trying not necessarily to live up to the accomplishments of those who came before them but to blaze their own trail while holding true to the tenets that have guided the Gilman collective since the beginning.

This isn’t a movie for everybody; people who find the music discordant and irritating doubtless will not find much to like here but it isn’t just the music that is important but the society that sprang from it. Love Green Day or label them sell-outs; they were an important part of the Gilman Street Experiment (almost said Experience there) and because of their success or maybe in spite of it, they are able to wield the clout to get a movie like this made. Punk scholars will appreciate this most of all.

REASONS TO GO: The concert footage is indispensable. The animated sequences are zine-like and cool. The Gilman scene gets the due it richly deserves.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much information coming at you in a documentary that’s a good half hour too long. There is an overabundance of talking heads here.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redford and the members of Green Day all went to Pinole Valley High School although two years apart.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Monster Project

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20th Century Women


Annette Bening examines Lucas Jade Zumann.

Annette Bening examines Lucas Jade Zumann.

(2016) Drama (A24) Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott, Thea Gill, Vitaly A. Lebeau, Olivia Hone, Waleed Zuaiter, Curran Walters, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Nathalie Love, Cameron Protzman, Victoria Bruno, John Billingsley, Finnegan Bell, Zoe Nanos, Laura Foley, Finn Roberts, Laura Wiggins. Directed by Mike Mills

 

Sometimes we take for granted the women in our lives; our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our friends. We are shaped inexorably by them, our development as people strengthened by them, sometimes in ways we don’t even know. That’s doubly true to those of us who have had single moms.

Dorothea (Bening) is a daughter of the Depression who got a late start on motherhood; she was 40 when she had her son Jamie (Zumann). She’s 55 now, and living in Santa Barbara (and now is 1979). Jamie’s dad is out of the picture and Dorothea helps make ends meet by hosting boarders in her fixer upper of a house – William (Crudup) who is doing most of the fixer upping and Abbie (Gerwig), a Bohemian photographer with maroon hair who is recovering from cervical cancer. Into this mix add Julie (Fanning), a childhood friend of Jamie’s whose home life has become so tense that she regularly spends the night in Jamie’s bed although she refuses to allow anything sexual to happen, much to Jamie’s chagrin. In fact, Julie is fairly promiscuous and has no compunction telling Jamie about her sexual experiences which makes Jamie feel even worse.

Jamie is at an age where he is growing more distant from his mother whose every action seems to piss Jamie off (if he realized how much freedom she gave him compared to what the rest of us were getting in 1979 he might not have been quite so prickly) and he’s beginning to push back in an effort to leave the nest at least spiritually, leaving without permission to join friends at punk rock concerts in L.A. or to go skateboarding with friends.

Realizing that she’s no longer able to get through to Jamie, Dorothea enlists the help of Abbie and Julie to help instruct her son in how to be a man. Abbie engages Jamie in discussions about female orgasms and gives him hardcore feminist manifestos to read. Julie’s assistance is a little more subtle but she seems to be warming up to the idea of a more romantic stand with Jamie.

But as most things do, things fall apart as Jamie, incensed that his mother seems to be giving up on him, grows more and more irritable – getting into fights with friends and with his mom. Something’s got to give.

Director Mike Mills based Dorothea on his own mother albeit with Bening’s own stamp put on the character. Much of what transpires in the film also transpired in Mills’ own life. Dorothea is a bit eccentric to be sure but no more than most moms of the day, or any other day for that matter. Mills realizes that quirky doesn’t have to be done in the indie film sense where people do outrageous things just for the sake of being outrageous; here the quirkiness is part of their DNA, an expression of who they are and they make sense; Dorothea chain smokes and invites people she barely knows to her home for dinner. William talks about energies and karma and is a 70s hippie with a mechanical bent. Julie  reads Judy Bloom and has lots of sex and wants to keep Jamie at arms length so they can remain friends seemingly without seeing what it is doing to him. Abbie dances like a fiend to the Talking Heads, takes pictures of everything (presaging the millennial obsession with taking pictures of even the most mundane elements of their lives) and generally being the 21st century avatar in this little family.

Jamie appears to be the most normal of the lot but ostensibly he’s the stand-in for Mills himself so it’s understandable if Mills gives Jamie a bit less of an edge, although he isn’t lacking in teen angst. Zumann actually does a pretty great job here; he’s never annoyingly precocious but seems pretty much like most teens I know – wears their hearts on their sleeves but much smarter and much worldlier than we adults tend to give them credit for. Zumann is a name to remember.

Bening delivers a performance that is strong without being flashy. Her character smokes incessantly and frets as mothers do but she’s generally calm even when there’s chaos around her. She can be a little quirky but at the core of the character are the things most of us have in common; love for our children and an overwhelming desire for them to be happy and safe. Bening portrays the character’s inherent dignity ably and allows her individuality to shine through. She missed out on a Best Actress nomination this year but she certainly was in the running for it.

This is the Southern California from the late 70s that I remember. Mills does a great job of recreating it, not just in fashion, cars and set design but in atmosphere as well. There are times when it feels like the characters are pontificating a bit much more than normal humans do, but other than that there’s not really a lot to quibble about here. It’s a good, solid slice of life movie that illustrates the difficulty of growing up into manhood and what a treacherous path it can be. It also shows that the gulf between men and women doesn’t have to be as necessarily wide as we think it is so long as we’re willing to listen to each other. It’s a lesson that was valid in 1979 and it’s a lesson that’s valid now.

REASONS TO GO: Annette Bening just kills it. The era is captured beautifully.
REASONS TO STAY: It gets a little pretentious at times.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s quite a bit of sexual material and some nudity, a fair amount of profanity some mild violence and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Crudup and Gerwig also appeared in the film Jackie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain Fantastic
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

The Taqwacores


Rock versus punk.

Rock versus punk.

(2010) Drama (Strand) Bobby Naderi, Noureen DeWulf, Dominic Rains, Jim Dickson, Nav Mann, John Charles Meyer, Nicholas Riley, Ara Thorose, Ian Tran, Volkan Eryaman, Tony Yalda, Marwan Kamel, Denise George, Anne Leighton, Rasika Mathur. Directed by Eyad Zahar

Art imitates life, it is said but sometimes life imitates art. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a novel about a fictitious Muslim punk scene and lo and behold, inspired by the novel, several bands of that nature sprung up. Taqwacore, which is a fusion of the Islamic word taqwa which refers to love, fear and respect for Allah, and hardcore, a sub-genre of punk which many of the Taqwacore bands reside, still is viable today. This indie film is based on the original novel.

Yusef (Naderi) is studying engineering at a university in Buffalo, New York. He is a fairly devout Muslim and feels uncomfortable in the dorms which he finds to be godless and where he is sometimes ridiculed. He decides to find off-campus housing that he can share with fellow Muslims.

Imagine his surprise when he found this house full of musicians and radicals who think that their religion is too strict, too structured. Yusef finds his horizons being widened by such as red Mohawked guitar player Jenangir (Rains) who says “Allah is too big and too open for my Islam to be small and closed.”

Yusef finds his mind broadening but his basic moral framework tested as his new housemates party like it’s 1999 and challenge the very meaning of what it is to be Islamic. Yusef begins to find that the punk ethos dovetails very nearly with that of his new found understanding of his religion.

What I like about the movie is that we get some insight into what it is to be a young man of the Islamic faith in the 21st century. That isn’t always an easy task – few Americans, myself included, really have much of an understanding of Islam. We either look at the lot of them as Jihadists (which they are not) or anti-Christians and particularly, anti-Jew (which most of them are not). I’ve known many people of that faith and you will not find a warmer, more caring and more family-oriented group anywhere.

That said, I like seeing that yes there are people within Islam questioning the things they were taught and told about their religion, very much like what has happened with plenty of Christian young people. I find the thought somehow comforting that questioning one’s faith is somewhat more universal than I first supposed. I don’t know why I would have thought that; it isn’t just a Christian thing after all.

Rains delivers a solid performance as the charismatic Jenangir. With the flaming red Mohawk and natural charisma, he captures your attention pretty much whenever he’s onscreen. I’m sorry I can’t say the same for the rest of the cast, but that isn’t necessarily their fault – their characters are written as fairly bland cliches that don’t really stand out. Yusef, experiencing a life-changing crisis of faith, never seems to change expression much. He may just as well be annoyed that the barista at Starbucks got his order wrong. But then again, his crisis of faith seems rather pat and kind of rote. I wasn’t convinced that he was upset with anything or anyone.

Not everyone is going to love the music here, although I must point out that I found it surprisingly compelling. When you’re aware that the bands that contributed songs to the film were bands that essentially were created because of the original novel this is based on, the songs take on a greater significance.

I would have liked to like this movie more but the rich tapestry of subject matter the filmmakers were given to work with turned out to be a store-bought throw rug. It’s not a bad film, not at all – it just doesn’t really rise far above what you might expect of a movie like this. I would have liked to see greater care in fleshing out the characters somewhat. I would have liked to care about them more.

WHY RENT THIS: Thought-provoking and occasionally informative. Rains delivers a standout performance.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies too much on cliche. Characters somewhat bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s rough language throughout and some violence in places.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the movie is set in Buffalo, it was actually filmed in Cleveland.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11,445 on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dogs in Space
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Magic in the Moonlight

The Punk Singer


The amazing Kathleen Hanna.

The amazing Kathleen Hanna.

(2013) Documentary (IFC/Sundance Selects) Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Tobi Vail, Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Johanna Fateman, Corin Tucker, Tavi Gevinson, Jocelyn Samson, Lynn Breedlove, Kathryn Wilcox, Jennifer Baumgardner, Billy Karren, JD Samson, Leo Galland, Tamra Davis, Allison Wolfe, Jen Smith, Ann Powers. Directed by Sini Anderson

Feminism has deep roots going back to the women’s suffrage movement and Susan B. Anthony and continuing through the 60s, the attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (which remains unpassed) and Gloria Steinem. There were many who thought the feminist movement to be dead. Don’t tell the Riot Grrrls that.

Riot Grrrls is a movement that sprung primarily out of punk music made primarily by women which addressed women’s issues and adopted an aggressive feminist stance. One of the major forces in that movement was the band Bikini Kill and their primary songwriter, singer and frontwoman Kathleen Hanna.

Bikini Kill grew up in the Pacific Northwest but later relocated to Washington DC. They were often misunderstood by the general public and frankly misrepresented by the press as man-haters (which they clearly weren’t as the band’s guitarist, Billy Karren, is male). Hanna was also often described as the victim of rape by her father which she in the film addresses as completely untrue (rape and sexual abuse are frequent topics for Hanna in both Bikini Kill and her next band, Le Tigre).

As a stage performer, Hanna is energetic and passionate. She used her sexuality as a form of expression and her gamine good looks, which remind me of Zooey Deschanel, are arresting. One of her trademarks is to call women to the front by the stage and to ask men to stay in the back; this was a safety issue as at punk shows moshing could get violent and cause women to be injured and molested. Hanna wanted Bikini Kill shows to be safe places for women.

She is married to Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, which makes for an interesting couple. He comes from a band who has written lyrics about women that are less than complimentary but he comes off as a devoted husband and one who supports his wife and her viewpoint completely. They’ve been married seven years although they’ve been together for much longer than that which is unusually long for relationships among rock musicians.

Hanna stopped performing back in 2005 and for a long while many of those who knew her didn’t know why. She used this film which debuted at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival (which I personally think is the perfect place for a film like this) to announce that she had been diagnosed with late state Lyme’s Disease which prevented her from performing – she had told her bandmates in Le Tigre that she felt she had written everything she wanted to say which she in the film admits was untrue but that she felt safer in saying that than in admitting she no longer had control over her own body.

Cinematically, the movie doesn’t break any new ground as a documentary. Fans of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre will be happy to discover that there is plenty of archival footage of both bands – some of it never seen publically. There are a great many talking head interviews, mainly with women at Hanna’s request – she didn’t want the film to be “validated” by male experts which I can kind of understand, given her point of view.

Her performance with her new band The Julie Ruin (named for her solo album) at the Knitting Factory in New York City is captured at the end of the movie. It seems that Hanna is going to be back writing and maybe performing (although I can’t imagine she’ll be performing nearly as much) which to my mind is a welcome thing.

I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Hanna shortly before she instituted a press blackout after continual misrepresentations in the mainstream press about her band and her philosophy. I was pretty much still finding my way politically so I’m afraid I probably came off as something of an oaf at the time, but I remember her passion, her humor and how articulately she expressed herself. One of the things I remember is asking why the Pacific Northwest seemed to be such a catalyst for social change as well as giving the world grunge. I don’t remember exactly what she replied but the thought clearly amused her. Obviously I was eager to see the film when I discovered it would be playing at the Enzian.

If I had the chance to interview her again, the one question I’d be interested in having her answer is whether the feminism she practices divides the sexes further and whether or not it would be healthier to encourage unity between the sexes. However, I must say that I came away from the film with three things. First, as a film it would have been better if it relied less on talking heads. Secondly, that feminism is far from dead and given the current war on women being practiced by the radical right, that it is needed much more now than ever. Thirdly, I came away respecting Ms. Hanna even more than I already did which was considerably. Even if you aren’t into punk or electroclash music (which my wife isn’t) you can still find a lot to appreciate in this movie.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances by nearly all of the cast. A lovely walk down Memory Lane.

REASONS TO STAY: Diverges from fact a few times.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the language is rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign as well as by a benefit concert at the Knitting Factory headlined by Gordon.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Last Days

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

The Other F Word


Lars Frederiken still knows how to swing.

Lars Frederiken still knows how to swing.

(2011) Documentary (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Jim Lindberg, Lars Frederiksen, Tony Escalante, Fat Mike, Art Alexakis, Tony Hawk, Mark Hoppus, Matt Freeman, Ron Reyes, Flea, Brett Gurewitz, Mark Mothersbaugh, Jack Grisham, Josh Freese, Tony Adolescent, Rick Thorn, Greg Hetson. Directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

Cinema of the Heart

It is the nature of misspent youth that we rebel against the things our parents held dear. Maybe the ultimate rebels in that sense were – and are – the punks, who turned their collective tattooed backs on everything our commercially-oriented society held dear.

Those punks though are reaching middle age and have wives, families and mortgages now. This documentary captures these guys at a crossroads where their idealistic youth is colliding with the reality of life and in nearly every instance ideal is giving way to the needs of one’s children, which are considerable.

Jim Lindberg, in particularly, is at a crossroads. The lead singer for Pennywise, one of the most successful punk bands out there, he like many musicians has been forced to spend increasing amounts of time touring in order to make ends meet, but that’s becoming more and more of a problem for his family obligations. He clearly loves his family – but he clearly loves his band as well. Something is going to have to give and it isn’t much of an issue. He announces that he’s leaving Pennywise.

Lars Frederiksen of Rancid still sports leopard-patterned hair and tats but has a sweet boy that is his entire world. He looks far more dangerous than he is – but when he enters a park to play with a son the other parents leave pretty quickly. That’s okay with Lars – he doesn’t mind getting some one-on-one time with his son and having no lines at the swing set is only an extra added bonus.

Duane Peters of the mid-level band U.S. Bombs has several children but his son Chess was his oldest. When Chess died in a car accident, Peters – a veteran skateboarder and singer with a variety of bands on the skate punk scene – fell apart. He became suicidal and when discussing that period in his life, it’s obvious the wound is still raw.

But mostly it is about guys outside the mainstream trying to provide a life that’s as close to normal as their kids as is possible. Most of these guys had childhoods that were far from that and they’re determined to give their kids the support and love that they didn’t get themselves. You get a sense that while yeah these guys can be aggressive about their ideology and look pretty damn intimidating, they’re still basically nice guys.

We get a pretty wide range of punks and extreme sports guys from the famous (Tony Hawk) to the largely unknown outside of the punk rock community. The relationships with their kids varies; some of these guys are surprisingly disciplinarians while others are kind of new age in their child-rearing philosophies.

We see the dads in their punk rock lives (although some of them, like Black Flag’s Ron Reyes, has moved on from music and gone to different professions) and also in their home lives. There are a lot of interviews, like Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers talking about the birth of his daughter inspiring him to give up drugs and alcohol.

Some of the movie is pretty lighthearted but a few scenes are truly moving. Throughout there’s a kind of goofy charm. Sure there’s that fish out of water element where we see punks adjusting to the real world (which seems to piss off some critics who don’t get that people change as they get older) but that’s not all that this movie is about. What it really is about is how kids can change even the most out there of people – people who reject even the most basic of society’s norms can have their hearts changed in an instant by the birth of their child.

The mother-child bond is often idealized, particularly in the movies and there’s no doubt the power of a mother’s love may well be the strongest relationship there is. However, the bond between a father and his children is often overlooked. For many little girls, their first valentine is their daddy and indeed the affections of a dad for his kids, while often expressed poorly, is no less deep or lasting.

This is one of those movies that remind you about that bond and that guys, doofuses though we may be, have it within us to be surprisingly sweet. Those moments can keep you ladies coming back to us guys for more, even though we may forget our anniversary date or need help finding where the extension cords are. In my book that makes this movie something to be treasured.

WHY RENT THIS: A really good look at fatherhood in unusual circumstances at times. Lindberg and Peters are distinctly moving.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might put off some punk rock fanatics.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a pretty fair amount of cursing and some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The making of the movie was inspired by Lindberg’s book Punk Rock Dad which is referenced somewhat here.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some performance clips for a number of the bands presented here (including Lindberg’s post-Pennywise project Black Pacific) as well as some pretty interesting outtakes, including one involving Dr. Drew Pinsky. There’s also a 15-minute Q&A session from South by Southwest that I wouldn’t have minded going on longer.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $53,714 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this movie wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: The Pianist

Multiple Sarcasms


 

Multiple Sarcasms

Stockard Channing reluctantly admits how many times she laughed in the movie.

(2010) Drama (Multiple Avenue) Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney, Mira Sorvino, Mario van Peebles, India Ennenga, Laila Robins, Stockard Channing, Nadia Dassouki, Joan Jett, Chris Sarandon, Alex Manette, Julia K. Murray, Stephen Singer, Steve Sirkis. Directed by Brooks Branch

 

Mid-life crises are nothing to sneeze at. It is a time when we feel the most self-doubt; a sinking feeling that things are as good as they’re ever going to be, that the things we haven’t yet accomplished never will be. Self-doubt becomes our friend and we often make sweeping changes as kind of a last hurrah to our youth.

Gabriel (Hutton) is a successful architect who is married to Annie (Delaney), a devoted wife and has a wonderful daughter, Elizabeth (Ennenga) who is full of joy. He lives in a beautiful home in Manhattan and has everything going for him. While it’s 1979 and the Reagan era is just about to begin, things are looking good for Gabriel.

Except he isn’t happy. While all the elements (you would think) should add up to happiness, the equation just doesn’t work. He is moping and feeling somehow unfulfilled and decides to write a play about it. He finds himself an agent (Channing) and at her urging, begins writing, using incidents from his own life and family to act out his misery.

This brings on some resentment, particularly in his patient wife who has put up with his moping for some time. Gabriel is also finding some attraction to his long-time platonic friend Cari (Sorvino) who runs a hip CBGB-esque nightclub. She feels much the same way but rejects his advances, knowing that an affair between the two of them would be bad for both of them.

As Gabriel places more and more of his attention on his project, he loses his job and his relationship with Annie crumbles. Will his mid-life crisis lead to him losing everything in his life that matters?

There is a decent movie to be had here but what we kind of end up with is a mess. While Hutton is normally a fine performer and he has a strong supporting cast behind him, he is given a role which while it harkens a bit to the films of John Cassavetes lacks the depth of character that Cassavetes was known for. Here, Gabriel’s general despondency feels more like a plot contrivance than anything genuine.

It seems reasonable to assume that Gabriel feels that he is married to the wrong woman; certainly that’s not uncommon among men of middle age. It is also true that men going through the middle age blues tend to do incredibly dumbass things. In that sense, Branch (who also co-wrote this) gets it right. What he fails to do is capitalize on it. The events aren’t organic; it’s like the writers wrote an outline of the story, decided what they wanted to do and never gave a thought as to how to get there properly.

That’s a shame because there is plenty of fertile ground to explore. Branch also lucked out in getting a lively performance from Ennenga, who might turn out to be the most memorable aspect of this film. She lights up the screen whenever she’s on. I do hope that she attracts some notice for it but in all honesty this micro-indie didn’t get much of a release and while it’s been popping up on Showtime from time to time, hasn’t been on the radar for many and for good reason. With a more polished script and a bit more insight, this could have been marvelous instead of mediocre. Maybe the next one will be a better bet.

WHY RENT THIS: Hutton is fine and Ennenga is marvelous.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overbearing at times, preposterous at others. Gabriel’s mid-life crisis feels more like a plot point than a genuine issue.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references as well as a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joan Jett makes a cameo as a 1979-era punk singer.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $29,731 on an unreported production budget; I’m quite sure this failed to recoup its costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Peep World

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Freebie