Judge William Lee spends hot summer days lying in his banana hammock.
"I think people are meant to touch each other."—Eleanor (Lynn Cohen)
The separate plotlines in this ensemble drama do not intersect but each one contributes to the film's theme of ordinary people seeking and giving a little comfort through companionship. Written, directed and shot by Adam Reid, Hello Lonesome is a gem of an indie movie with its fresh writing and natural performances. It has a light touch, but sidesteps manufactured quirkiness for genuine humanism.
Facts of the Case
There are three unconventional relationships featured in this movie. The most colorful character is Bill (Harry Chase, Important Things With Demetri Martin), a busy but cantankerous voiceover actor who lives in near-seclusion in his huge house in the country with soundproof recording booth. Unable to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Bill's interaction with other people is limited to the insults he exchanges with regular deliveryman Omar (Kamel Boutros, The Collective). The romantic couple is Gordon (Nate Smith) and Debby (Sabrina Lloyd, Sports Night), who meet through an Internet dating service and then have their commitment tested when Debby is diagnosed with cancer. With a slight nod to Harold and Maude, the oddest couple of the film is Eleanor (Lynn Cohen, Eagle Eye) and Gary (James Urbaniak, American Splendor) who form a close friendship when he offers to chauffeur his elderly neighbor after her driver's license is revoked.
Adam Reid's script doesn't give us characters that are off-the-wall or situations that are completely outrageous. The strength of his filmmaking rests in his sympathy for flawed but decent characters responding bravely and honestly to their loneliness. The film's depiction of these characters' vulnerability and courage is moving and engrossing.
The most moving story is that of the young lovers, Gordon and Debby, who share a wonderfully offbeat chemistry. This couple's banter starts off feeling a little mechanical—true to the question-answer routine of any new dating couple—but then it takes on a playfulness that makes their connection really convincing. They also have the inevitable squabbles that seem to come out of nowhere but it's refreshing to see intelligent characters working through the rough spots instead of going to the autopilot plot routines of romantic comedies. Smith and Lloyd are so good together, they will melt and then break your heart. In the audio commentary, Reid says he wrote Debby's story based on his sister's fight with cancer.
Real-life voiceover actor Harry Chase fearlessly portrays Bill, the voiceover star, and supplies his own home for filming. Defiantly living how he wants, Bill unabashedly goes about his day—chopping wood, target shooting, working in his recording booth—barely dressed in garish banana hammock briefs. Yet, Bill's vulnerability is also on display in his growing dissatisfaction with his family life. It would have been easy for Bill and Omar to fall into the stereotypical animosity between a rich white man and a working slob immigrant but Reid gives these characters some meaningful depth.
The odd friendship between Eleanor and Gary is uncomfortable at first. Gary's social awkwardness combined with Eleanor's bluntness conjures the tension of a bad party conversation from which you want to flee. Their connection is more vague than the other two stories and it's a little unclear where their boundaries lie in respect to physical desires. The film suggests a certain direction for Eleanor and Gary but then doesn't quite commit to going there. Cohen and Urbaniak make their characters very believable and sympathetic though they're the kookiest of the bunch.
Hello Lonesome is treated well on this Film Movement release but a couple of technical shortcomings can be attributed to the source material. Shooting with a digital camera allowed for a speedy filming schedule and a small crew but the production lacks that last bit of polish visually. Each of the three stories exhibits a different color bias. I don't know if that was intentional but it left me with a nagging feeling that something was slightly off. A color timing process (or its digital equivalent) might have made the footage feel more consistent. Grain is noticeable in several moments and not only in darker scenes. Blacks are murky so subtle shadow details are lost. The image is pleasingly sharp and overall the scenes are lit and composed well. Stereo sound works just fine for the uncomplicated audio mix and dialogue is clear throughout.
Feature-specific extras on the DVD include the film's trailer and biographies of the director and cast members. A lively audio commentary with director Reid and actors Cohen, Chase and Smith shares plenty of production anecdotes. Reid talks about working fast and cheap as an independent filmmaker and reveals the personal connections that inspired his film. The participants sound very proud of the movie and they ought to be.
The bonus short film on the disc, While the Widow is Away, was also written and directed by Reid. Actors Lynn Cohen and Kamel Boutros join Reid on the audio commentary that accompanies the 19-minute film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Reid and editor Scott Rankin do a good job juggling these separate storylines. At a brisk 93 minutes, the characters don't wear out their welcome but it certainly feels like enough time has been spent with them in this context. The film seems less confident near the end when the stories are cross-cut with an intensifying musical score. It feels like events are being driven to a crescendo that doesn't come. Individually, the stories manage to reach their climactic moments without the extra noise.
These couples' stories might be seen as unconventional relationships but they share a truth about our desire to connect with someone. The fine cast beautifully serves the smart script, which balances light humor with honest emotional punches. With his debut feature, Adam Reid proves he's a strong new talent in American independent film. Hello Lonesome is a recommended rental but subscribers of Film Movement's DVD-of-the-Month Club will be pleased to add it to their library.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
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