Wednesday 12 November 2014

Technically Grounded (2013)

Director: Darrin Moore
Stars: Trevor Robins, Noah Lanouette, Calabria Pelletier, Madelynn Eldredge and Chelsea Carll
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
The most annoying thing about Technically Grounded is that it clearly springs from a single idea which I can't talk about because it would constitute a spoiler. I can say that it feels very much like one of those deceptively throwaway comments that get dropped into a conversation at a party, perhaps elicit a laugh of three before the topic moves on and it's promptly forgotten. Except that it isn't forgotten by everyone; it resonates with someone who feels driven to feed it into the creative process and generate something that will outlast that conversation. I wrote a short story once because of a spam e-mail and another that grew out of a piece of history related during a ghost tour. It wouldn't surprise me if this short film began with some off the cuff comment that just wouldn't leave Darrin Moore alone. If so, I'm thankful he turned it into a script (with Whitney Mead) and then a film as we've all been there. This is why I started up game night for family, where we switch off devices, eat, play board or card games and actually talk in person.

What I can talk about here is the power cut. Moore introduces us to a set of kids who only seem to exist apart from the regular world. The boys play multi-player games online, talking in game on headsets and texting each other outside of it, uploading kills to YouTube as they go. The girls talk, talk, talk on various devices at all once. Rachel is on her laptop, while talking on the family landline, texting on her bedazzled cell and skyping on her iPad. All human interaction is here, just not face to face. Moore does exaggerate for comedic effect and to illustrate his point, but he's not really stretching the truth that far. In particular, I've experienced a lot of communication with parents just like what's shown in this film, right down to the unrealised taking for granted. What's new here is that the power goes out and they're all flummoxed. We presumably aren't supposed to realise that cellphones would still be up with their always on connections to the net, but we can forgive that at least a little because of the dialogue.

I loved the dialogue, especially as delivered by some of these kids (the adults in the film don't get much of a look in at all). 'Seriously there is nothing to do,' clamours Tommy. To the obvious answer, he protests 'Play what? The power is out!' And so, to avoid being roped in for chores, he heads out front to sit on the curb, as do all the other neighbourhood kids we've watched inside. 'I didn't even know there were other kids in the neighbourhood,' he tells Nick, but suddenly they're introduced to girls and kicking cans in the street and water bombs and the works. The brief Kumbaya guitar strumming is clearly only in the film as a joke for old fogies in the audience like me, but it's hilarious nonetheless; to be fair, so is the rest of the film which is far more grounded and believable. This is a point far more than it's a story, so much so that kids might just raise their eyebrows at the film, but anyone over the age of twenty will find something in this to relate to and, in all probability, rather a lot.

The glorious little twist in particular surely can't fail to spur every parent to want to emulate it in real life, even if most will talk themselves out of it by the time they leave the theatre or reach for a remote. At the risk of puncturing the joke though, it's worth mentioning that this is something of a reactionary flipside to Our Own Devices, which played earlier in the same set at the Phoenix Film Festival. That carried far more truth in explaining that technology merely changes us; it enables just as much as it takes away. As much fun as this is, it's fun in the same way as telling kids to 'get off my lawn'. It doesn't stand up to too much analysis, even with an opening quote from Albert Einstein that, 'It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.' Each generation gets to say this in their own way, yet there's always a next generation to laugh about the fears of the previous one. We survived women getting the vote and automobiles hurtling along at 20mph. We'll get over always-on connections too.

If the idea is king here, it's brought to life well, if we can get past the conveniences. The score is suitably bubbly and the camera moves well. It relies on a set of child actors to bring it to life and it finds a strong lead in Trevor Robins, who gets a lot more to do here than he got in An Encounter. Another Running Wild alumnus, Noah Lanouette from The Sisters, does well too but Robins is clearly on a roll here and remains out of reach. Keeping the trend alive on the side of the girls, Madelynn Eldredge was also in a 52 Films in 52 Weeks short, Clay. She's certainly one of the busiest young actors in the state, but she has little to do here and she mostly relegates herself to the background along with her screen sister, newcomer Chelsea Carll. It's Calabria Pelletier, another fresh face to film, who matches Robins step for step. Both are strong natural performers and we'll surely see a lot more from both of them soon. Robins in particular has half a dozen films in the can or going through post-production. I'm only surprised Pelletier doesn't.

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