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Case Number 18011

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My Effortless Brilliance

MPI // 2008 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // January 5th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Franck Tabouring's brilliance is indeed quite effortless.

The Charge

Get ready to bond.

Opening Statement

Up-and-coming filmmaker Lynn Shelton likes to keep things simple when it comes to making movies, and so far, her strategy and her own unique style have definitely paid off. Just last year, Shelton's latest feature Humpday, which received a ton of critical acclaim, picked up the Special Jury Prize at Sundance before embarking on a limited, yet quite successful, theatrical run. Her previous film is a comedy/drama titled My Effortless Brilliance, and it's now finally available on DVD through IFC Films.

Facts of the Case

My Effortless Brilliance tells the story of Eric (Sean Nelson), a semi-successful novelist who attempts to shut out his annoying writer's block by calling and meeting up with Dylan (Basil Harris), an old friend he hasn't talked to in forever. Dylan, however, is not entirely excited about Eric's sudden invitation to have dinner and catch up, and instead of playing nice, he pretty much lets Eric know that his selfish behavior is what really drove them apart.

Forward two years, and Eric is now traveling around the country to promote his latest novel. Next thing we know, Eric takes a break from his tour and shows up at Dylan's cabin in the woods, where he launches on a mission to reconnect with his old pal.

The Evidence

If Lynn Shelton's My Effortless Brilliance shows us one thing, it's that solid friendships that last forever require a lot of work. Much like romantic relationships between couples, friendships need a bunch of respect, attention, and honesty to work properly. When we first meet Eric, he seems rather incapable of maintaining a valuable human connection, but as he gets to spend some time with Dylan in his remote cabin, his attitude clearly changes for the better.

How, you may ask? The answer to that is simple: with the help of a lot of booze, random conversations, and even a hunt for a cougar. No, I'm definitely not kidding. That's exactly what happens next in the movie, and even though this may sound a little odd, it actually both serious and often quite hilarious as well. That's where Shelton's talent shines through, because she's a dab hand at creating realistic characters and telling simple stories filled with heart and truth.

Her success has a lot to do with her method of generating a film. Unlike many independent filmmakers out there, Shelton takes a slightly unconventional approach when it comes to building her story. Instead of writing a formal script, Shelton picks people (actors, mainly) she likes to work with and then develops a story and characters around them. Additionally, she always invites her actors in on the process, and, so far, it really has worked out beautifully. My Effortless Brilliance is by all means a successful experiment.

Simplicity doesn't work for every filmmaker, but for Shelton, it does. She shot this film with a crew and cast of eight and with a tiny budget, and yet the result is very professional. Most of the dialogue we hear onscreen is improvised, and yet, most of it is quite meaningful. It also helps drive the plot, which is utterly important in fiction. So, yeah, as a simplistic indie bromance, My Effortless Brilliance works in terms of creativity, story, and cast.

Sean Nelson turns in an inspiring performance, and his character Eric is someone I neither liked nor disliked. It's intriguing to watch him do the things he does and say the things he says, and in some way, he's quite unpredictable. This is great, of course, because unpredictable characters always work. The same applies to his buddy Dylan, played marvelously by Basil Harris. Also starring is Calvin Reeder, who plays Jim, a buddy Dylan invited along on the night of drinking and bonding.

The DVD of My Effortless Brilliance includes a trailer and deleted scenes, but what I enjoyed the most was the 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, during which viewers really get to see Lynn Shelton in action. The piece also introduces us to her style, as well as her cast and crew. To young filmmakers like myself, it's a truly inspiring documentary. Also included is an entertaining audio commentary, during which Shelton, her cast, and her crew take viewers through the movie and how the whole project came together.

Closing Statement

Lynn Shelton has a bright career ahead of her, and, with My Effortless Brilliance, she has created a simple, funny, and somewhat dramatic film about what it takes to make a friendship work. This kind of slow-moving filmmaking is not something everybody will appreciate, but it sure is inspiring and very subtle.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 84
Audio: 83
Extras: 88
Acting: 87
Story: 84
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette


• IMDb

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