Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monday Night Gig (2005)

Director: Tyson Smith                                       Writer: Ian Smith
Music: Somerset Meadows                              Cinematography: Todd E. Freeman
Starring: Neil Kopplin, Seneca Relich, Ina Strauss and Aaron Babb

“We’re getting the band back together.” How many times have those words been spoken all around the country? And how many more times in Portland? Tyson and Ian Smith’s Monday Night Gig traces the improbable history of the band The French, as they attempt to make it big. It’s a goofy comedy in the style of so many independent films, but there is a serious undercurrent to the story that comes from intimate knowledge of the milieu, kind of like a low budget This is Spinal Tap. The title itself, in fact, is a major in-joke, as Monday nights are the nights when nobody goes out, and thus it is the worst gig of all. Microphones that shock the singer into numbness, arguments between band members, band meetings, bad opening acts, patron-less venues, a broken down band bus, and lousy accommodations on the road all come from a place of affectionate appreciation for the struggle of musicians with far more vision than talent. The Smith brothers bounced around the country as kids, eventually winding up in the Northwest. Ian earned an English degree from the University of Oregon, while brother Tyson earned his graphic design degree from Portland State. The two began by writing indie comics together--a skill that was put to use in creating the wonderfully humorous posters for the band--and quite naturally branched out into film. This is their second feature, after making The Sexy Chef in 2002.

The film begins with Neil Kopplin and Seneca Relich in the garage playing their guitars, and dreaming of the day when the name of their band, The French, will be up on a marquee for a sold out show. The title sequence is particularly nice, with a posters being stapled on a telephone pole, and the screen divided into multiple sections as the two musicians look for a bassist and drummer to round out the group. At their first gig they’re pelted with spaghetti and booed off the stage. Three years later Kopplin, now a junior high teacher, calls Relich, an accountant, with the good news: they’re getting the band back together. After chasing down the bass player, Aaron Babb, who is living in a cardboard box, and anarchist drummer Ina Strauss, who works at a pizza joint, Kopplin announces they’ve been signed to a local record label. Unfortunately, with the combination of personalities and a pot-head engineer Gray Eubank, the group never seems to get any actual recording done. Day after day in the recording studio goes by, and zany antics ensue, and when they finally do record a song Eubank forgets to turn on the machine. Then, once the album is finished, the repo men come in and take everything out of the studio, including their album. Four years later Kopplin and Relich are interviewed on public access television to announce a CD release party at the Mt. Tabor Legacy Lounge. When Relich has had enough and wants to quit, Kopplin convinces him to do one last show.

As is the case in so many independent films, the two leads are pretty good. The rest of the cast . . . not so much. Fortunately Neil Kopplin and Seneca Relich carry the show. Kopplin is a natural and the camera loves him. He’s goofy and irresponsible in a completely believable way. Relich’s acting is a little too character driven and, as the voice of sanity that is drown out by Kopplin’s idealism, he has to try too hard. Nevertheless, he does a solid job in support and the two work well together. Had Ina Strauss played a slightly different character, or been given different direction, she might have stolen the show. She has flashes of brilliance that are all too brief. Portland writer-director Mike Prosser also turns up as Relich’s boss at the accounting firm, and he’s given some terrific material. But the writing is also inconsistent. In among the plethora of easy jokes that don’t really make it, there is some extremely funny writing. Early on in the film Kopplin has been kicked out of the house by his wife for buying their son an inappropriate birthday gift. “I got him the five piece drum kit,” he tells Relich. “I was only cleared for Battleship.” The film is finally what it is, a send up of a garage band with dreams of making it big, and while one of the jokes seems to be on the audience who never hears the band actually play, that’s simply another choice that indie filmmakers have to make. And since there are very few actors who also play, the choice was ultimately a simple one. Still, if you know what you’re getting in to, and you’re up for it, there are laughs to be found in Monday Night Gig.

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