We’re on the final stretch of the film fest and Day 7 is one of the three busiest days for me, with back-to-back screenings. It’s been fun [and challenging too, I’m not gonna lie] wearing multiple hats as blogger/film critic/journalist the past few days. But I’m so grateful that everyone I’ve met so have have been so friendly and gracious, it’s really been quite an exhilarating experience and that’s why I keep blogging for the film fest!
So last Wednesday, I got to see one excellent documentary and two romance dramas of opposite spectrum. Speaking of documentaries, I will be combining all the doc reviews all in one post after TCFF wraps.
And here are the reviews from Day 7 …
The idea behind Old Fashioned may seem foreign to a lot people today (including to the filmmaker himself at some point), but depending on your world view, it’s certainly not an improbable notion. The title refers to an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town, owned by a former frat boy Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder). One Autumn day, a young woman named Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) happens to drive into the town. Apparently it’s [her] tradition that wherever her car runs out gas, that’ll be the town she’ll stay in, at least until she has to move again. And so she ends up renting an apartment right above Clay’s shop.
Clay and Amber couldn’t be more different. Clay with his permanently-tousled blond hair is taciturn and a loner, whilst the beautiful Amber is free-spirited and outgoing. Sparks didn’t exactly fly in their first meeting, but there’s definitely a hint of attraction. As it turns out, Clay has pretty much been living a monk-like existence for the past nine years, much to Amber’s bafflement. When he comes up to her room to fix her broken stove, Clay insists that she stands outside the door with a blanket. “It’s not normal,” she balks at Clay’s unyielding rules and relational theories. Perhaps more out of curiosity than physical attraction, Amber sort of *pursues* Clay by continually breaking stuff in her apartment just so he’d have to come up to her apartment. Eventually Clay agrees to go out with her, but only if she agrees with his terms.
I gotta admit that I think Clay is a bit extreme in his approach to relationships. In a way, Amber is kind of the voice of the audience as she asks the same thing we would if we were to meet someone like him. So as Amber discovers more about Clay – and vice versa – the film peels the layer of both of their past. Clay had spent his college days sowing his wild oats, whilst Amber had been traumatized by her past relationships that her first inclination is always to run away. For Clay, his heap amount of guilt pushes his ideological pendulum to swing so far the other way that he practically sabotages his own chance at true happiness. I like that the film didn’t paint the protagonist as some high & mighty hero who’s got everything figured out. Clay and Amber are flawed characters we can all identify with and the film shows just how fragile relationships can be without even mixing sexuality into it.
The film doesn’t shy away from the faith elements, showing scenes and conversation about Christianity and the Bible, but they’re not done in a preachy manner. In my conversation with writer/director/star Rik Swartzwelder, he mentioned that he wasn’t interested in a faith propaganda story, but he was inspired by people he knew whose stories become the concept for the film. And so the spirituality element is organic to the characters and intrinsic to the story.
The film’s beautifully shot on location in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, by David George. There’s a rustic quality to the entire film, the whole vintage look is a nod to a bygone era, both literally and philosophically speaking. Most of the supporting cast feature local actors which adds to the authentic Midwestern sensibilities. My favorite is definitely Dorothy Silver as aunt Zella who’s been trying to get Clay to lighten up and let go of his guilt. LeJon Woods as Clay’s BFF is a lot of fun to watch as well, both of them are the comic relief of the film. But the revelatory star is definitely Elizabeth Ann Roberts who has an effortless screen charisma and sweet vulnerability about her that makes her perfect for the role. I’m glad Swartzwelder ended up casting her after months of searching, and Amber is truly the heart of the story. I think the characters are nicely fleshed out, though it’s a bit tough for to picture such a serene fellow like Clay that he was a reckless womanizer, as the film barely show flashbacks of their past.
The ending is perhaps too fairy-tale-ish, but I can’t help being swept-off my feet by the film’s undeniable charm. I can even forgive some of the schmaltzy moments that drag on a bit, so I think the 115-min running time could’ve been slightly trimmed down. Overall I’m impressed by Swartzwelder‘s feature film debut, it’s an enchanting romance drama I’d readily watch again.
It’s interesting to see Old Fashioned and Comet back to back as both deal with romantic themes and both are feature film debuts from its respective directors. Their styles and approach to romance couldn’t be more different however.
Set in a parallel universe, the film bounces back and forth over the course of a couple’s six year’s relationship. Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) met as they were lining up for a meteor shower watch at a college campus. It’s kind of a quirky meet-cute, as Kimberly saves Dell from being hit by a car. It prompted Dell to ask Kimberly out right in front of her handsome date (Eric Winter). Dell is honest and verbose to a fault, saying everything that pops in his head unapologetically. The constant bantering is amusing and frustrating at the same time, and the film pretty much consist of monologues and conversations of the two leads.
The unconventional time jumps employed here feels a bit gimmicky at times, though fortunately I don’t find it as confusing as I thought I would. The bantering alternates turns to bickering and a screaming match in certain period of their lives, and both actors perform their roles wonderfully. Emmy Rossum impressed me in her stunning performance in The Phantom Of The Opera a decade ago, she barely aged a day it seems. Justin Long shows that he certainly has range, and his dramatic performance here is as convincing as his goofy, comedic side. They’re both very natural and believable in their roles, and to me that’s the strength of the film to keep me engaged.
The film plays with meta theory of dream vs reality but yet never quite shifts into sci-fi fantasy mode. I have to say though, the overly-stylized way the film is shot, with its transition and fancy camera angles, feels experimental to me. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, in fact I think the film’s cinematography is gorgeous. But at times it just feels a bit indulgent, it’s as if Sam Esmail is showing off his directing chops when a less edgier style would perhaps work just as well here. The ending also ends abruptly and though I don’t mind open-ended stories, this one just felt half-baked to me. It also doesn’t help that I simply couldn’t connect with any of the characters.
Still, I think the concept is interesting, which makes me wonder why this film was barely promoted by the studio. I mean there’s not even a trailer out yet even though it’s supposedly out in December, and even images of the film is scarce. I’d say it’s worth a rent if you like the cast and in the mood of an unconventional indie rom-com.
Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’ discussing the story origin of his film, casting process and going against Fifty Shades of Grey next year.
Have you seen any of these films? Would love to hear what you think!