03 April 2011

Film Review: The New Year

Film: The New Year
Directed by Brett Haley
2010 - Independent Studio

The New Year deals with the struggles of Sonny, a young woman in her early twenties living in Pensicola, Florida. She had previously returned to her hometown to care for her dad who has cancer. She works at a bowling alley, dates the Tae Kwon Do instructor at the local dojo, and struggles through living at home. Her yearning to break free is brought to attention at the return of Issac, a high school "rival" who won the class presidential election their senior year and is now a budding comedian in New York City.

~ ~ ~

This is a film that almost hits home for me. Almost. Sonny is my own age and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. I am Sonny's age and attempting to figure out what I want to do, but I feel less pressure because I have about a year to figure that out. I have also recently concluded that I may move to a random location and attempt to set up a life there. Just to see what happens.

But the film. This film was made with an $8,000 budget, but it does not show in the final product. The visuals are stunning and professionally done. I especially loved the compositions of the pillow shots between scenes. Those were very well done. (Vocabularly: "Pillow Shot" -- a sequence of shots connecting one scene to another. Taken from my Production class notes.)

Another positive is the play with romance of the film. Sonny has a boyfriend, but a visiting guy starts hitting on her as well. She doesn't know what to do with the romantic relationship just like she doesn't know what to do with the rest of her life. However, the romance is put on the back burner and the focus is more on Sonny and how she deals with her life in general and not one specific aspect of it. If the romance were in the forefront, I would have been annoyed.

I would have liked to have seen a few things in this movie, though. For one, character arcs. The final bit of the movie fails to provide any evidence of a character arc. The movie introduces problems and plays with them without doing much with them. Yes, this might seem a realistic way that people deal with problems, but when I sit to watch a film, I want to be taken somewhere and feel like I got something out of it. I didn't have that feeling with this film.

Another thing this could have used was risks. What does it mean to leave your dying father behind so you can spread your wings? What sort of effect would that have on the people you left behind? Would your dying father hate you for it? Would he want you to fly away? Would he get crap for feeling like he does? Meanwhile, what about you? Would you feel guilty as you do your thing? Would you be reminded every few months of your father's condition and asked when you're coming home? Would your father send you messages of encouragement? Disappointment? What would happen when you leave everything behind? Those are the kind of risks this film could have used because there would have been no consequences if they were taken.

To top this off, the acting of this film was amazing. None of the actors were well known, and a majority of the people were Pensicola locals the director just knew. For instance, Sonny's father was somebody the director acted with in community theatre. And he was an amazing actor for the part of the father. Just amazing. The woman who played Sonny, as well, was really good. She could shoot off sarcasm and make it sound natural, and that's important when you have a sarcastic character. Her sense of humor was also spot on. Props to the director for finding the perfect actors for this film. This was quality work for $8,000.

~ viewed at the 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival ~

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