The Discontents

3.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: December 29, 2006
Beautiful Losers

“You don’t know what you want.”

Few of us do, but we like to think differently. Consider the alternative ….

Andrew Jackson’s semi-autobiographical first feature flirts occasionally with greatness (the failed father figure, Perry King whose affability even in the face of another literary failure effectively masks his unstoppable march to self destruction in an idyllic setting) but slips too easily into cliché where a tad more wood shedding would lift this remarkable production several notches.

The uncredited music tracks (aside from the “untogether” opening chorus) fill in the gaps and glue the scenes together with a compelling array of folk, country, metal and jazz. Visually, aside from a few washed out frames and catch-as-catch-can editing, the screen slips easily from present-day colour to dreamy black-and-white memories of Matt’s (Jackson) dad. Here’s a man cut from the same cloth as Oren Siedler’s father, Bruce (cross-reference below). He’ll stop at nothing, double mortgage, insurance scams, and credit card fraud to bring his artistic dream to life. Sadly, no one in L.A. is interested in Be Here Then—a ‘60s commune sitcom that features a psychedelic udder.

Following the cremation, Matt tries to reconnect with fellow writer and sometime girlfriend/fuck buddy, Zoe (Deva Nicole who, like a Nouveau beaujolais improves with every scene). She wants a permanent, full-service marriage while Matt wants to play the field a while yet. (Both father and son are not immune from professing undying love and simultaneously sampling the wares of others readily at hand.) Soon, Zoe has sold some work and convinced Walt (in one of several hilarious “water” scenes—don’t miss the toilet bowl follies!) to formalize their relationship and pick up the cheques. No worries, even this bliss is doomed to failure because the “actor look” husband’s reading habits don’t extend much beyond the sports page. Where’s the chance for pillow talk there?

Nick (David Lee Russek whose matinée looks belie his habits) is Matt’s drug-loving, booze swigging soul mate, then—after a particularly mind-boggling bender—co-writer. Between the two of them (Matt is the pretentious one coupled with Nick’s “big yang”), they should have been on easy street before you could say “collaboration.” Only when Nick is truly pissed off do the words begin to flow.

Jackson and Paul Hutko’s script hits many nails on the head and deftly balances the sublime (the discovery by mother—Amy Madigan—and son as they clean up the remains of the dead that her ex-husband was both a brilliant photographer and a cheating bastard) with the absurd (in another desolate moment, Matt has ordered a nude “Molly Maid,” who mistakenly happens to be a guy—wrestling fans will savour this scene with its marvellous array of sexual/social tensions). Unfortunately, there are numerous lines from the saccharine/overused dialogue bin that smack with a cheapness that weakens the result considerably (“I hope you will forgive me and take me back,” says Matt having just delivered a humongous “thought-of-you-all-the-time” repentance poem to Zoe).

Still, Jackson’s film shows promise even as he examines the twin dilemmas of history repeating itself in general (the blue-collar strike sub-plot might well become a project on its own) and the fear of becoming our parents.

Having achieved this much, Jackson should be able to banish his own demons of low self-esteem. Now it’s time to dig down into himself without anyone peering over his shoulder and craft a project entirely of his own creation. JWR

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