Saturday, February 4, 2017

Last September (2008)

Director: Chapin Hemmingway                              Writers: Tyson Balcomb & Chapin Hemmingway
Film Score: Jim Walker & Tim Ellis                        Cinematography: Sean Rawls
Starring: Jeremy Fiske, Andrew Fletcher, Emily Michele and Laurie Balcomb

While Portland director Chapin Hemmingway’s first film, Last September, initially feels like a practice run for his more assured work in The Gray Area, this is still a film that stands on its own and delivers some strong work from both the principal cast and the director. The lead in the film is the director’s college roommate at Emerson University, Jeremy Fiske. The two roomed together in Boston before moving to the school’s Los Angeles campus, and while Hemmingway worked on the screenplay Fiske served as a sounding board during the writing. After a successful premiere in Portland, the film went on to appear at a number of small festivals including the Tacoma Film Festival and the Indiefest U.S.A. festival in California, in which the film was given an award for best visual effects. Like most first films, however, it suffers from choices that Hemmingway would make differently in his later film, as well as some technical issues that were unable to be ironed out in post-production. While the extremely low-budget and independent quality has to be taken into consideration--along with this being the director’s first attempt at filming his own screenplay--the end result shows a lot of promise.

The film begins at the house of college student Jeremy Fiske. It’s the day of the funeral after his mother has died and when his childhood friend, Andrew Fletcher, comes over all he wants to do is get out. The two aren’t exactly estranged, but they haven’t seen each other for a while and there’s a definite tension between them. Very quickly the film becomes one of contrasts in character. While his mother’s death has forced Fiske to grow up quickly, Fletcher still seems stuck in the adolescent world of his high school years. He doesn’t want to go to college and still fights with his mother, Laurie Balcomb. At the same time Fiske decides to break up with his girlfriend, Emily Michele, who the audience later learns also dated Fletcher at one time. When Fletcher invites Fiske to go up to the San Juan Islands in Washington for the weekend, Fiske readily agrees in order to get away from things for a few days. The first stop, however, is at the apartment of a girl Fletcher knows, Allea Martin, in the hopes that she can get Fiske hooked up with her friend, Ashley LeBel. But Fiske simply winds up drunk and crying in the bathroom.

The next day the trip continues on an idyllic note, with a ferry ride to the islands, followed by a hike in which the two begin talking about the real conflict in their relationship: the feelings they both share for Michele and the tension that they’ve felt ever since. It’s not until the trip takes an unexpected turn that they develop a new understanding for each other. Though Jeremy Fiske may not be a household name, he has gone on to do some interesting work after this film, authoring another independent film he starred in that was shot in Boston, but primarily as a production assistant on such big-budget films as Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Moneyball with Brad Pitt. He does a good job in this film, only his second feature, though the technical issues with the sound tend to hamper his quiet delivery. He has a look similar to Ron Eldard, but his acting style is closer to Giovanni Ribisi. Andrew Fletcher is taller and more angular, and presents a nice contrast to Fiske both physically as well as in character.

In terms of the acting itself, the men do a decent job but the women in the film don’t fare so well. Emily Michele is painfully awkward on the screen in the couple of scenes she has, first with Fiske when he breaks up with her, and then with the two of them before they leave on the trip. Laurie Balcomb also seems a little unequipped for her dramatic scene as Fletcher’s mother. To be fair, the early scenes with the men are rough as well, but since they have the entire film to develop some chemistry it doesn’t make as much of an impact. Hemmingway and producer Tyson Balcom’s screenplay emphasizes realism, which is interesting to a point but wears thin after a while. The goal with dialogue shouldn’t be realism, but instead a natural feel while moving the narrative along, something the team vastly improved upon in their next feature. And that is the real takeway from the film. On its own it’s a moderately successful independent first feature, but when viewed as a stepping stone to the much more successful follow-up, the difference shows a filmmaker who can learn from mistakes and who has exhibited a tremendous amount of growth in a short time. In that context, Last September is a bittersweet experience in that this growth hasn’t been able to continue in a series of later projects.

No comments:

Post a Comment