Saturday 1 February 2014

The Young Wife (2011)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Adam Cope, Michelle Winters and Adam Pezen
Next weekend, Running Wild Films will be hosting their 52 Films/52 Weeks Festival at Mariscos Vuelve a la Vida on 16th St & Roosevelt. Travis Mills and his Who's Who team of Arizona talent met the ambitious goal of shooting 52 short adaptations of public domain stories within 2013 and this is where all of them will be screened for the first time. I'm highly looking forward to it and to clear the way for the imminent deluge of new Running Wild material, I've been catching up with a few of their older titles that I haven't yet reviewed. Last month, I covered Encounter, the only 2010 title in Mills's IMDb credits list, as well as being the oldest except for The Ruffians, from which one of the actors reappears here. This month, I'm taking a look at the next oldest, 2011's The Young Wife, which had somehow eluded me until now. It's a pessimistic story, not only because it features a woman trying to hire a detective to follow her husband, whom she believes is cheating, but because it's told in an unusual way. In fact, that's much of its charm.

However, it's also constructed well, with a great opening shot to grab us in and a decent, if predictable, ending to leave us with, while in between there's a lot of thought. As it begins, we're assaulted by loud music: a wild, bluesy number dancing with edgy feedback. It's a sonic wall, perhaps the first test for the young wife of the title. Walking through it, she discovers a painter playing solitaire with real cards, who directs her to Jack Briggs in the main body of the gallery. Briggs is a detective and Liz is the young wife who wants to hire him. She's already written a cheque and she wants to hand it over now; the trouble is that he doesn't seem to want the job. For a while he spends more time looking at the art than he does at her, but he's paying attention and deflecting her questions back at her. Clearly he isn't remotely like what she expected and, while she tries to keep the upper hand, he's adept at stealing it back again, in ways that neatly challenge her perspective.
The downside of the film is obvious the moment the painter turns down his music. The sound is terrible, echoing in the gallery, which is the Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix, and often too quiet. It improves a little as it goes on, so we can, at least, discern the conversation between the detective and his wannabe client. Mostly it just highlights how far Running Wild have come in this department as, mostly through a long term collaboration with 5J Media's James Alire, their films tend to have the best sound in the valley. Clearly, that wasn't true in early 2011. Michelle Winters struggles a little too, as Liz. It's not a simple role and she does have good moments, seething well and glaring well, as we might expect for someone with red hair and green eyes, but she's too restrained generally. Liz is a mix of nervousness and anger, with an entitled bitchy streak, and Winters is able to find all those notes, but she should have had a lot more fight in her too than she managed to bring.

Surprisingly, she's the most experienced of the small cast. Adam Pezen, who plays the painter, was one of The Ruffians, though he hasn't earned another credit since. He's an enticing character but he doesn't have anywhere near enough screen time to do much. As Briggs the detective, Adam Cope does. He's a well written character, built more from questions than answers, and he could easily come back for more stories, though I don't believe he has yet. It's Cope who makes him watchable though, partly because, like Jimmy Cagney, he never stops moving. He does well with his voice, intonation and timing especially solid, but he acts as much with his body. If that isn't moving, his eyes or his eyebrows or his shoulders are; it's only when his part in proceedings is done that he stops. He's also framed well, the art being put to good use, both inside and out. I'm just surprised that this is Cope's only credit. The Young Wife would be a better, if still flawed, film with decent sound but it's an interesting piece anyway.

The Young Wife can be watched for free at YouTube or Vimeo.

Details about the 52 Films/52 Weeks screening event, including trailers, can be found at the Running Wild website.

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