Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opening Scenesters

How do you pick the opening night selection for one of these festivals? I was talking with Q Cinema's Todd Camp after the end of The Scenesters, this year's LSIFF opener. Todd pointed out that last year's opening night pick (Sunshine Cleaning) was an enjoyable film with big names, but no one from the film had appeared at the premiere. This year had the opposite problem, with lots of people from the film at the premiere, but no big names on the screen. Maybe that's why I left feeling like I would have enjoyed the movie more as a regular festival selection instead as the opener.

The Scenesters is by a comedy troupe calling themselves The Vacationeers: writer-director Todd Berger and his co-stars Kevin Brennan, Jeff Grace, and Blaise Miller. For a movie by a comedy troupe, this is an ambitious piece. It's about two ethically challenged documentary filmmakers who initially find a subject in Charlie, a guy who cleans up crime scenes (shades of Sunshine Cleaning!) but then shift their focus when Charlie discovers evidence that the murder scenes he's cleaning up are the work of a single serial killer. The film is like a Chinese box; I spent the first 20 minutes or so trying to disentangle the framing device from the flashbacks. Berger shoots much of the film like a fake documentary, but he also inserts parodies of everything from instructional films to music videos to mumblecore movies. Some of it is very funny, but things turn serious when Charlie tries to figure out the killer's identity while the documentarians manipulate reality to make Charlie into their hero. This is a tough trick to pull off, and Berger doesn't quite get the balance right between showbiz satire and David Lynch-style paranoia.

Side notes: Anthony Mariani already took note of the Vacationeers' local ties. Suzanne May, who plays Charlie's TV reporter ex-girlfriend, can also be seen in Gentlemen Broncos, which opens Friday in Dallas. The feature was preceded by an amusing short film by the Vacationeers called Excuse Me, in which Julia Stiles plays herself as an annoying celebrity who goes up to four guys in a restaurant and pesters them, trying to give them her autograph while they try to give her the brush-off. Nice comic reversal.

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