Film Score: Andrew Parish Cinematography: Westley Cornwell
Starring: Quinn Allan, Katie Mentesana, Benjamin Farmer and Geno Romo
The Roomies is another film from the crop of young, independent filmmakers coming out of Portland, Oregon. Director Jared Yanez and star Quinn Allan are part of a production company in Portland, Mongrel Studios, creating a tremendous variety of media projects. My entre into the film was through Allan and Benjamin Farmer, who had appeared together in Jon Garcia’s The Falls, one of the best films I’ve seen in the last twenty years. This film, however, has the distinction of introducing me to an incredible talent in Katie Mentesana, an absolutely beautiful actress who has a remarkable onscreen presence, and an honesty that positively leaps off of the screen. The film begins with Quinn Allan’s face beneath running water, then finally emerging in a baptism. But this is quickly replaced by him pulling his head out of a toilet, and being somewhat mystified as to why it was there. It turns out he’s drunk in a bar with his friends Geno Romo and Ben Farmer, who are all moving in together the next day. Allan is a new Christian and his friends are teasing him and talking about video games and getting drunk with Carly Carcione. The next morning he stuffs all of his belongings into a garbage bag, leaves them at his new apartment, and heads to church.
But in the next scene the housewarming party is underway with plenty of, sex, drugs, and drinking, and Allan still seems mystified by the emptiness of it all. He is apparently trying for some kind of change in his life, but living with his friends, the loud and obnoxious pothead Romo, and the musician Farmer, is not very conducive to a new way of life. It’s not until Romo’s girlfriend, Katie Mentesana, is about to move in that the audience learns Allan works online as a moderator for the discussion boards at a porno site. Then, at an open mic where Farmer is performing, Farmer’s girlfriend, Carcione, hits on Allan, and the gig is followed by yet another party at the apartment where Carcione calls Allan “dark.” What had been sort of a goofy comedy about roommates, suddenly takes a turn for the surreal. Romo drives Allan over to the house of a business man he’s trying to get to invest in Farmer’s band, but Matt Mascaro is actually an ex-con drug dealer who is more than a little strange, including Mascaro’s mother, Kim Page, huddled on one end of the couch crying. Back at the apartment Romo bashes Allan for stealing girlfriends away from him in high school, and later Farmer confronts Allan for the fact he’s not actually paying rent at the apartment. The crisis point comes when both of his friends decide to move out.
Writer-director Jared Yanez definitely has a distinctive visual style behind the camera. He has a deft hand at montage and his setups and composition are terrific to look at. This is easily the most compelling thing about the film. If there is anything lacking, though, it is the screenplay. But then that’s the case with a lot of independent films. There’s a certain banality to the dialogue that causes the actors to try a little too hard to bring life to it, something reminiscent of John Sayles' first film, Return of the Secaucus Seven. Quinn Allan’s work in the film is a bit inconsistent. It’s a good part, but it seems difficult for him to know how to play it. Ben Farmer starts out a little rocky as well, but soon settles into his role as the more financially responsible of the three. Geno Romo was the only actor I really had anything good to say about in an otherwise execrable film called Lake Noir, which also featured Ben Farmer in a bit part. The irony is, while he was the best actor in that film, he’s the least effective actor here. I get what Yanez is going for with the part, but Romo’s performance comes off as more of a caricature than a believable person.
While I had a difficult time warming to the story there is, however, one incredibly beautiful scene in which Quinn Allan and Katie Mentesana are packing up Romo’s things so he can move out of the apartment. The bed is too heavy, though, so they lie down and begin talking in a relaxed and casual way. Yanez makes an interesting choice here to build a bit of tension and, instead of letting the scene unfold by itself, he intercuts a brief scene showing Farmer and Carcione’s relationship hitting a snag. Then, when he cuts back, the tension is finally released as Allan and Mentesana begin to tease each other, get physical, and when she finally kisses him it leads to the inevitable. The chemistry between the two is tremendous, and pushes the film into some incredibly interesting territory. The problem is, this needed to happen twenty minutes into the film. As it stands, just as things really get going, the film winds to a close. In fact, the last act of the film is so good in comparison to the first hour and a half that it’s difficult to know how to feel about it as a whole. It’s not surprising that the film won a film festival award, as the last twenty minutes of the film leaves the viewer speechless. Though not a great film overall, The Roomies has a lot to recommend it and as a first film it is impressive. With any luck Jared Yanez will be able to direct some more features soon and build on this great start.