Monday 4 May 2015

Perorities (2013)

Director: Colleen Hartnett
Stars: Dakota DuVall, Stacie Stocker and Michael Hanelin
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
Most of the shorts made at Running Wild Films used to be directed by Travis Mills, with most of the rest by the production company's co-founder, Gus Edwards. In 2013, however, a whole slew of other folk came on board to take their turn in the director's chair, a bunch of whom only had experience on the other side of the camera. A few of these films stand out in hindsight for various reasons: Michael Coleman's I Don't Even Know Your Name was an IFP challenge film that won Honda King a much deserved end-of-year Best Actress award; The MacGruffin and Foster, You're Dead set the stage for Kyle Gerkin's notable career as a director, which with the feature, Seven Hours in Heaven, has now eclipsed his acting; and Perorities from Collen Hartnett, which became the first Running Wild short to be selected for a major film festival. It's far from the best thing that the company has ever done and it starts off on shaky ground, but it ends up as one of the most fun little films I've grinned my way through.

Much of that is due to Dakota DuVall, a scenestealing little boy whose lack of technical skill is more than made up for by his infectious personality, his amazing grin and his knack of pulling exactly the right face at exactly the right moment. He plays Sammy, a precocious child clearly enjoying the stuffing out of life even though he's suffering from a medical condition that is never named and never explained. It merely means that his mother, Celia, has to take days off work at the drop of a hat to take care of him, which, of course, puts a strain on her as a single mother and precludes her from having a love life. As she explains to Elizabeth on the phone, as she tries to set Celia up with David Walker from work: 'I don't have time to go on dates. I have Sammy.' He's her priority, so her private e-mail address is going to stay private. Celia is portrayed by Stacie Stocker, an experienced Running Wild hand who is as excellent here as usual, but she's up against a dynamo of a co-star who steals every shared scene from her.
Thus far it's been a little clunky. There's an imbalance in the sound between Stocker and DuVall in the first scene, which is annoying. There's an awkward shot that exists only to establish Celia's obvious worry and it feels out of place. Even the camera isn't as stable as it ought to have been. Yet, it's about to really kick in because Celia's conversation with Elizabeth is only the setup and now Sammy's about to exercise mad skills to make that potential date with David Walker from work happen. The cinematic trick that follows is an absolute blast and it's one that can't fail to elicit a grin from every audience member that's as huge as Dakota DuVall's. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen Stacie Stocker do and she absolutely nails it. As the potential love interest, Michael Hanelin proves yet again why he needs to do more comedy; it's a lot more sedate than what he got up to in The Test Case, but he's fun being PG nonetheless. Their dialogue is also well crafted, with some clever choices of words that mean different things to different ages.

There's a quote from a Frank Sinatra song at the end of the credits that doesn't really apply to the story but does to the tone: 'Fairy tales can come true; it can happen to you if you're young at heart.' This does have its share of technical issues but it gets better and the joy that arrives when Sammy gets sneaky is a technical issue trumping sort of joy that stems equally from DuVall's voice, Stocker's acting and the script by Hartnett, who wrote and directed solo and produced and edited with Mills. While this was the first film she directed, it wasn't the last as she co-directed an IFP submission last year called And Then There Were Monsters and she's continued to rack up odd crew credits. However, unlike Gerkin, she's mostly remained in front of the camera, where she continues to shine, even if tears and red wine are not required props. It feels odd to watch a Hartnett picture that doesn't feature her on screen, but if she comes up with another odd idea like this one, I hope she takes another shot in the director's chair.

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