Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Foot in the Gutter (2011)

Director: Justin Koleszar                                    Writer: Justin Kolezar
Film Score: Adam Allred                                    Cinematography: Ryan Kunkleman
Starring: Geoff Stewart, Nick Ferrucci, Zach Sanchez and Benjamin Parslow

This is another of the independent films out of Portland that I have been screening ever since being absolutely blown away by Jon Garcia’s The Falls. This film, One Foot in the Gutter, by writer-director Justin Koleszar, features the star of Garcia’s film, Nick Ferrucci, and that’s what brought me to it. And while it lacks some of the carefully crafted aspects of Garcia’s films, it is still impressively artistic in its own right. But beyond that Koleszar’s script takes on a disturbing aspect of today’s youth culture in which young men and women, just starting out in life, continue to behave as if they were in a fraternity or sorority, binge drinking and acting like the idiots they see in Seth Rogen movies. In the past, as critic David Denby discusses in a different context, young people “were not expected to remain in a state of goofy euphoria until they were thirty-five.” The recent decline in civility and empathy for others is directly related to the all-consuming selfish behavior that young people in their twenties are indulging in at the expense of the rest of society and, even worse, at the expense of their own future. It’s not a popular stance, but it is one that needs to be confronted, and I applaud Koleszar for doing so.

The film begins with a terrific montage, a Northwest rainforest outside of a small town. Inside one of the houses another montage of shots establishing a dirty bachelor pad is overdubbed with Nick Ferrucci yelling at Geoff Stewart to go with him for Mexican food. But a car crash suddenly brings the film to a screeching halt. Ferrucci came out okay, but Stewart can’t remember the crash and is having emotional trauma that is still lingering on three weeks later when he sees his doctor, Harold Phillips. Prosecutor John Lee gives him two choices, three months in rehab with a reduced fine, or the full fine and a week in jail. Stewart is planning on moving to Colorado for a job, and Lee says he can do his rehab there. At the same time Ferrucci is buying a gun, and Stewart’s little brother, Jesse Henderson, leaves home to move into the living room of the house because he idolizes his brother’s party lifestyle. The other two guys who live there, Zach Sanchez and Benjamin Parslow, together with Ferrucci, are throwing a party for Stewart in the hopes that he’ll stay in Oregon instead of moving to Colorado. Stewart, who has been sober for a month following his doctor’s orders, had planned on leaving before the party, but his ride begs off for another day and he is stuck at the house that night.

The party begins with the arrival of a group of girls that includes Stewart’s ex-girlfriend, the arresting Meredith Adelaide, who confesses to Stewart that she still loves him. Later, his friends put so much pressure on him that, against his better judgment, Stewart gives in and begins to drink. The subtext to the evening is that Ferrucci has something very important he needs to tell Stewart. Luke Clements, another friend who has come down from Seattle, is the voice of reason in the group and wants Stewart to go to Colorado. The ending is bittersweet and, while not climactic, it is certainly real. And that is probably the thing that is most prevalent in the film, a sense of realism that Hollywood struggles with but that Koleszar is able to capture extremely well. The acting is solid, especially Stewart, and Ferrucci is perfect for his role as the slightly goofy best friend. But the rest of the principals are equal to the task as well. The screenplay is very intelligent, and while that shouldn’t be a surprise, it is, because that tends to be the real weak point in small, independent films. Once scene in particular that stands out is when Ferrucci is talking with Adelaide in the basement and she says, “He doesn’t have to hate me,” to which Ferrucci replies, “Technically, he does. And technically, so do I.” It’s a terrific shorthand to let the audience know that she cheated on him, done in a very clever way. And the screenplay is full of those moments.

The story itself, which emphasizes the vacuous nature of the boy’s lifestyle, has lots of meaningful moments without being preachy. In a scene where Stewart is dreaming, the four friends are running through the woods, but when they stop to talk he notices there is someone else along, a drinking, smoking, unkempt loser with missing teeth (a cameo by the director). It’s a sign that the wanton lifestyle the boys have been living is not going to lead to anything good. In another scene shortly after, Parslow is standing outside amid Stewart’s possessions, which have been unceremoniously chucked out the window, and deliberately pours beer over the American flag. It’s a moment that may mean nothing to young people, which is just the point, a powerful symbol of the narcissistic and nihilistic attitude of today’s youth. Koleszar’s cinematic sensibilities are also impressive. The opening montage is quite good, a series of static camera setups that end with the house, but it’s then that the camera slowly pushes in. And in several flashbacks that show the relationship between the boys, again, he emphasizes empty moments that are merely substitutes for a real relationship between them. As far as I know, the film doesn’t have any distribution on DVD, which is a shame. One Foot in the Gutter deserves to be seen by a much wider audience because it is a terrific film, and yet another example of the great work coming out of the Portland film scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment