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2013 Lake Placid Film Forum: Reviews of Fairhaven and Syrup

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Reviews of Fairhaven and Syrup at the 2013 LPFF

Two Independent Films from this Year’s Festival

While I enjoy reporting on figure skating events (obviously), I’m also a huge fan of film, and one of my favorite events of the year is the Lake Placid Film Forum, where it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to view films I otherwise would not have the opportunity to see, all within close proximity at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

The two films I caught on Friday, June 14th, Fairhaven and Syrup, which despite their completely different styles and subject matter, are both about people who are “lost”. They are lost in the sense that they don’t quite know where they fit in or who they really are. And while the main character in Fairhaven must go back to his hometown to fully realize how clueless he is about himself, the protagonist in Syrup finds out the (comparatively) hard way, by being thrown headfirst into the world of multi-billion dollar corporations. Neither of their journeys is easy; the hardships along the way are what make the movies even more vivid and realistic.

Fairhaven

Fairhaven (Tom O'Brien, 2013)Fairhaven is about Dave (Chris Messina) who returns to his small hometown on the Massachusetts coast for his father’s funeral. Originally I thought the film was focusing on Jon (Tom O’Brien, also directing) since he is the first person we see at the beginning of the film, working on a fishing boat. It is apparent that Jon is drifting through life, half-heartedly holding a job on the boat while trying to launch his writing career. We see Jon trying to attain peace of mind through classes and meditation, but it doesn’t seem to improve his outlook.

However, IMDB indicates that the movie’s main protagonist is Dave, a slacker character with a foul mouth who is either drunk or high through a good portion of the movie. The muted colors of the landscapes, mostly snow-covered lawns and a few wintry beach scenes, seem to indicate the character’s state of mind throughout. All of them—Dave, Jon, and even responsible Sam (Rich Sommer from “Mad Men”) are somewhat adrift and trying to make sense of what they really want out of life, and how to get it.

At the beginning of the movie, Jon is talking to Sam in the supermarket, recalling a quote made by quarterback Tom Brady after winning the Super Bowl. A reporter had asked Brady how he felt about winning the Super Bowl and having all of his dreams come true, and he replied, “there’s got to be something more than this, right?” Once his dreams came true and he had finally reached the end of a long, arduous road, Brady was surprised that the victory didn’t come with more exhilaration, or at least a slight change of mind. Jon identifies with this quote and mentions it twice (to two different people) during the film; partially because of his past as a high school quarterback, partially because the quote conveys the same sense of longing and dissatisfaction with life’s circumstances as he feels.

To try to dispel these feelings, Jon accompanies Dave on multiple misadventures. Both try to dull the pain through alcohol, drugs, sex, and partying, relentlessly trying to quiet their torment, but nothing helps. Meanwhile, Dave has to deal with the feelings left after his dad dies, and a less than harmonious relationship with his mom.

What was really great about Fairhaven, in my opinion, was the dialogue and the intimacy of the story. The characters all talked like real people talk, with swearing, uncertainty, and all. The way many of the scenes were shot made me feel like I was there spying on their lives. “Fairhaven” comes across as a story about real people, not actors trying to “act” like real people. O’Brien said after the film that he allowed the actors to learn the scene and convey the words in their own way instead of working from a very strict script, which lent to the authenticity of their performances.  In addition, the actors all had a great chemistry with each other, and a natural way of conveying emotions that didn’t seem overly dramatic. It is a natural, moody movie that captured the feelings everyone feels, even if they don’t verbalize them quite so much.

A factor that might make it difficult to keep the attention of some audience members is the very slow pace of the film. Nothing particularly exciting happens, except perhaps when Jon has an explosive session with his therapist, saying, “I still don’t know where to find me”; it’s a very dialogue and relationship based film. We see different sides of the characters depending on whom they are talking to, as happens in real life. Perhaps my favorite relationship in the movie is the easy and playful one between Jon and his mother (Maryann Plunkett). O’Brien’s mother (Donna O’Brien) gives a very strong performance as his therapist, which is the perfect role because she is a psychotherapist in her hometown of Fairhaven. O’Brien said at the post-movie Q and A that he was inspired to write something set in Fairhaven after visiting his mother there. Another strong component of the film is the cinematography of the New England coast by Peter Simonite, which highlights the beauty of the region.

Overall I enjoyed the film, even with the slow pace, and consider it a realistic and well-acted ensemble drama that allows us to reflect on what truly makes us happy, and how vigorously we strive to give our lives meaning. The movie ends with Sam, Jon, and Dave gathered together, resuming their usual banter, and we are left with the impression that they have all attained a bit of closure and contentment—for now.

On a scale of 1- 5 Georges: 4.5

Syrup

Amber Heard in Syrup (Aram Rappaport, 2013)Syrup, on the other hand, was a bit more disappointing. It started out with satire, and ended as a droopy drama, seeming to completely change genre and tone halfway through the movie.

It starts out quite promising: a young entrepreneur wannabe “named” Scat comes up with an idea for an energy drink. Having changed his name in an effort to change his “branding” and create a persona as he was advised in marketing school, he is like many other recent college graduates in that he is desperately searching for a job, preferably with high income potential. He creates “Fukk” energy drink with the intention of marketing it to the “young, shallow, and materialistic”, which should give you an insight into his character, and make you question why you are supposed to be rooting for him. Yet, despite his apparent willingness to do anything to become rich and famous, I found myself hoping he would succeed, at least at the beginning of the story. Scat (Shiloh Fernandez) is naïve and hopeful at first, at least until his friend and roommate with the telling moniker of “Sneaky Pete” (the rarely speaking Kellan Lutz) steals the idea and works his way to the top of the Addison corporation, which apparently is supposed to represent Coca-Cola in the real world.

Then there’s Six (Amber Heard), the cutthroat and seemingly emotionless twenty one year old executive whom Scat pitched the product to at the beginning. When she is thrown over by Sneaky Pete, she feels compelled to show him up by pulling Scat onto her marketing team, even though Sneaky Pete has assigned her to a less-than-stellar campaign to claim all the glory for himself. Scat is somehow able to create an amazing marketing campaign with Six, and is back on top, for now.

This first act was quite speedy and engaging, but, while some of that speed was due to the music and editing, it was still holding my attention. Graphics, graphs, and the characters talking directly into the camera attempted to provide some gimmick, and sometimes they achieved the purpose of complimenting the story, while at other times they were just a distraction.

Syrup really lost me during the second and third acts, when it shifted gears and started to focus on the relationship between Scat and Six. It lost that snap of satire, instead careening towards romantic comedy territory with a few tearful scenes between the two protagonists, and very little of the wittiness and verve that characterized the beginning. After the first act, it seemed like the creators lost their direction a bit, and were desperately trying to figure out what new plot twists they could throw at Scat next.

Predictably, the movie ends with both Scat and Six somewhat chastened and slightly less reprehensible, but they are far from heroes. Although Scat starts out as a starry-eyed kid intent on making his mark in the world, he morphs into a cold, calculating executive whose only interest is continuing to sell his product. Six feels remorse for not being more “open” about who she really is, but doesn’t really change either. So the ending is a bit unsatisfying, and I felt as if the filmmaker abruptly spliced it into the film to give a small sense of closure.

However, there were some bright spots. Amber Heard was perfect casting for the role of Six, giving an icy, almost robotic performance. Kellan Lutz was also understated yet intimidating as Sneaky Pete, standing silent through much of the movie, (until he apologizes to Scat for stealing his idea, at which point Scat nonchalantly replies, “it’s just business”). Attempting a commentary on the ruthlessness of marketing and our complex relationship with what we own, was a brave move by a filmmaker making his first feature. Although it had its moments, Syrup would have been better by running with the original marketing satire intention, and by being better organized. I can’t say I hated it (I was somewhat entertained throughout), but it was not as smooth as it was clearly trying to be.

On a scale of 1 to 5 Georges: 2.5

Christie Sausa is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=18308

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