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Case Number 16636: Small Claims Court

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One Way or Another Productions // 2009 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // June 18th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker sat through this whole film, breaking a vow he made to himself as a stripling.

The Charge

In three days, Jebadiah Sminch is going to kill himself, and he's never been happier.

The Case

A while back, I reviewed a pair of films that are part of the "mumblecore" family. Mumblecore films are generally made by—and about—20-somethings, created with tiny budgets and low-tech. They focus on character more than event and feature dialogue that is—or at least sounds—improvised.

I don't know if Ryan Andrew Balas is a member of the "mumblecore" school—although Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) rates a "special thanks" in the end credits—but his film, Carter, certainly bears all the earmarks of a mumblecore production. The question is, will this amateur looking, atrociously acted, barely scripted load of tedium find a following the way films like Funny Ha Ha and Quiet City have?

Carter is about Jebadiah and his girlfriend, Carter. They don't do much besides hang out in the park and have awkward conversations about nothing in particular. They don't talk about their jobs, their friends, politics, the world, their feelings, their ideas, or anything more involved than what they'd dreamed the night before—and these dream stories sound more scripted than authentic. At a couple of points, they do talk about a mysterious "decision" Jeb has made. These scenes—and another early in the film between Jeb and a friend—concern Jeb's decision to kill himself, though if I hadn't read the tagline on the front of the DVD case, I might not have gotten this. When I visited the production company's Web site I was surprised to learn:

When Jebadiah was 17, he vowed to kill himself when he turned 25 if wasn't married by the time he was 23. This film takes place three days before his 25th birthday. Jeb is in love with Carter, but unmarried.

This is an annoying premise and hardly original—see Eric Schaeffer's heinous If Lucy Fell for a similar riff. But Balas doesn't seem interested in telling this story. Beyond those couple of badly staged and acted discussions, the suicide business has no bearing on anything. It's referenced in such vague ways by such dull characters that even if you follow it, you're not likely to care how it turns out—fortunate, since it isn't resolved or even mentioned again. Bringing it up at all, obliquely as they do, seems pointless, but then Carter is a pointless and tedious home movie, poorly produced and defiantly unengaging.

There seems to be a sentiment that people in their 20s are all self-absorbed fools who have no lives or interests. Of course, some people in their 20s are like this, but so are people in all age groups. The idea that we should spend 80 minutes with these inarticulate dullards because they represent a generation is ridiculous. The target demographic—if that term is even applicable—is rooted not so much age as maturity and ambition. If your idea of a good time involves watching people wandering aimlessly while making uninspired small talk, you might relate to Carter. Bonus points if you don't find insipid the business of following through on a pinky swear to commit suicide that you made as a teen and having such shallow friends that they actually take such nonsense seriously.

It seems that Balas wanted this whole thing to come off as unforced and natural, but the result is the opposite. The actors are awkward and have trouble reciting simple bits of dialogue—they strain even to remember the names of other characters and situations. No one seems comfortable in front of the camera, and the work behind the camera is less-than stellar. Shots are badly framed; the film just looks amateurish. Audio is terrible, muffled, badly mixed, and difficult to hear. See if you can count how many times the mic is banged, knocked, or otherwise distorted. Despite the near absence of anything resembling action, Balas adds endless and useless scenes of people walking around doing nothing while music plays on the soundtrack—sometimes it's folksy pop music, other times a piano score more suited for a Lifetime TV movie. Since no one is doing anything especially noteworthy during these segments, I'm guessing it was just the director's way of stretching this to feature length. The suicide bit is barely a plot point, and seems to work only as copy for the Web site and DVD case.

While she can't act at all (at least based on this), Julia Porter Howe, who plays Carter, is an attractive and appealing presence. Her scenes with Deirdre Herlihy, as a nondescript friend, are draggy and meaningless, but not nearly as unpleasant as the scenes with the male actors. Worst is a sequence set in Jeb's "office," which features a wretched cameo by the director and the longest, least funny Internet porn story I've ever heard.

The disc I received seemed to be a DVD-R with nothing on it but the film. There were no chapter stops or set up options, and forget about extras. It's DVD as VHS.

There's nothing wrong with getting a few friends together, playing around with a camera, and "making a movie." In our increasingly tech-friendly world, this is easier than ever. But let's not kid ourselves: It's a home movie. Putting titles on it and releasing it on DVD doesn't make it any less so.

If you are a friend of Ryan Andrew Balas or someone else connected with Carter, then you might enjoy this. If not, you'll likely find it a dull and indulgent waste.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 20

Perp Profile

Studio: One Way or Another Productions
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• None


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