Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"A Buddy Story" Review

I can’t even feign objectivity. “A Buddy Story,” formally “Buddy Gilbert Comes Alive,” formally “Buddy Goldstein Live” is a low-budget romantic comedy I served as a production assistant on in the fall of 2007. It was neither a pleasant nor entirely professional initiation to the world of feature film production, and now, three years later, after hearing rumors surface about reshoots in California, I sat down in Philadelphia to watch the film I helped in some small way to create.

Problem is, I couldn’t watch it the way I normally would. With each scene, I was fumbling for an accompanying memory, focused more on what was happening off camera than what was happening on. As such, take my impression that the film felt choppy and under-realized with a grain of salt. Apparently it worked for the meager crowd and even some of my fellow crewmates.

But my big problem with “Buddy” has nothing to do with its craft. From a creative standpoint, writer/director Marc Erlbaum fails to distinguish his characters and his story from the myriad of other indie films exactly like it. From the eye-rolling quirkiness of Buddy’s pet choice to the complete lack of dramatic risk, the film not only says nothing new—it says nothing old in a particularly interesting way.

The story is about struggling singer/songwriter Buddy Gilbert (Gavin Bellour) and his developing relationship with Susan (Elizabeth Moss), the wounded woman that lives across the hall. The two end up touring a blur of hick town bars, community centers, and retirement homes together, forming a bond in the process. Probably the greatest strength of the film is their easygoing chemistry.

Elizabeth Moss’ career has taken off since I worked with her. She was cast as the female lead in “Buddy,” just as the first season of “Mad Men” was airing, and largely because of its success, she has come into some very high profile gigs since—including the Apatow-produced “Get Him to the Greek” and the upcoming Lawrence Kasdan film, “Darling Companion.”

She is believable in “Buddy,” even when she has to work against the script. Bellour is slightly less so, but he too is making the best of a poorly written character. Erlbaum writes Buddy as an odd loner who, on the surface, sports an almost naïve childishness, but who underneath is dissatisfied with himself. The latter isn’t explored nearly as thoroughly as it should be, and as such, Buddy never quite comes across sympathetic. He, like all struggling artists, is waiting for his big break, but his moments of pessimism are so few and far between that we never buy the struggle.

The issue with this mediocre film is that there simply is nothing at stake. Nothing seems to depend on whether or not Buddy gets signed. He makes ends meet as is. Even in resorting to a telemarketing job, he seems happy; if it’s good enough for him, why should I care his dream is falling by the wayside?

Yet in my best impression of objectivity, I don’t think “A Buddy Story” is a worthless film, it’s just an unnecessary one. The music is a definite highlight, and though it doesn’t directly appeal to my taste, it works well within its context. My only question is whether the tunes are genuinely catchy, or if I’ve just heard them ad nauseam.

“A Buddy Story” just premiered, and as such does not yet have a distribution deal. God only knows when and if the opportunity will be made available for the public at large to see it, but frankly, they’re not missing much. Then again, what do I know? I'm just a disgruntled employee.


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