Judge Joel Pearce imagined a better movie.
For the love of rock and roll.
A gutsy indie project, Shooting Livien uses the story of a young New York musician to attempt to explain the life and experiences of John Lennon. On that level, it fails, but in the meantime it tells a fascinating story of ghosts and impending insanity. Perhaps at times even filmmakers don't realize what they have made, even when it's good.
Facts of the Case
John Livien (Jason Behr, The Grudge) is a skilled young musician, driven by his mother's obsession with his namesake, John Lennon. This transferred obsession has pushed him to learn the guitar, and he is in a local band along with Owen (Dominic Monaghan, Lost) and Robby (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project). Unfortunately, John's passion and drive include some instability, which has caused tension with his bandmates. These issues come to a head when he meets Emi (Sarah Wynter, The 6th Day), who he quickly falls in love with. As his life resembles that of his hero more and more, he becomes further disconnected from reality.
If you are making a film about a man who is the artistic reincarnation of John Lennon, your film had better incorporate some damn impressive songwriting. While the songs and performances in Shooting Livien are impressive, they are still a constant reminder that John Livien is not John Lennon, and never will be. None of the songs in this film have remained in my head, despite a number of riffs obviously stolen from Lennon's music. Making this claim is like suggesting that a character is the artistic reincarnation of Michelangelo. How can you create art that impressive for an independent film? This disparity creates a constant distraction, each time that John picks up a guitar.
Of course, that might be the whole point here. How can this young musician possibly live up to the expectations of his mother? If every child whoheard they had the talent to be a star believed it as strongly as John does, the world would be even more full of shattered dreams and disappointments. Perhaps this unattainable expectation is what pushes him over the edge of sanity. How could anyone will themselves to become a pop culture icon? Fortunately, the performance from Jason Behr is exceptional, as he transforms into a troubled young musician haunted by pressures and substance abuse. His bandmates are also excellent, and Sarah Wynter puts in a sensitive and layered performance as Emi. Though she isn't as unique a personality as Yoko Ono, she would be an easy person to fall in love with.
In a way, though, the quality of the performances don't matter here. The cinematography is excellent as well, though that also hardly seems to matter. When a story uses allegory, it becomes almost impossible to focus on anything else. Throughout Shooting Livien, we are reminded time and time again that this is designed to be an allegory for John Lennon's life. The relationship between John and Emi sparks a near break-up of his band. He wears rounded glasses. He is an emotional songwriter who often prefers to be alone. His name is John. This is all well and good, but it does several things that damage the overall impact of the film. First, it's impossible to think about this story outside of that context. Had this simply been an indie rock picture, focusing on a talented young musician coping with past tragedy and unrealistic expectations, it could have been far better than it is as a John Lennon allegory. Also, by enforcing this allegory, it's hard to avoid playing the "spot the differences" game. Each time something happens, we wonder whether it is part of the John Lennon allegory or the John Livien story. It's a distracting way to go through the film, and limits our enjoyment. Shooting Livien would have been far more impressive if these connections were implicit, there for John Lennon fans to quietly appreciate.
The disc is well produced. The film is a labor of love, and although the low budget is always clear, this transfer represents excellent work in the independent market. The anamorphic widescreen image is clean, with good color representation and a strong black level. I noticed no compression flaws in the transfer, either, unusual for this type of production. The sound is offered in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. Both options makes excellent use of all channels. The scenes with music are especially strong, sounding almost like well recorded live concert tracks. The disc is a bit light on extra features for such a personal project, but there is a written statement from director Rebecca Cook, explaining her goals in creating Shooting Livien. There is also a production featurette, which is affectionately hosted by Cook.
Fans of indie music and films really should check out Shooting Livien. It is a daring project created by a young crew, and it's full of energy and creativity. My disappointments come from limitations of the concept, not the talent and effort that went into making the film. Because of those drawbacks, though, it would probably make a better rental disc for most.
With this much talent, I expect to see great things from this crew in the future. Because of that, I will let them off this time around.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Production Featurette
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