Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ugh, Indie! Brightest Star Fails To Shine.

The Good: Moments of performance, The middle
The Bad: Uninteresting characters, Dull story, Murky directing, Short, Overbearing soundtrack.
The Basics: Brightest Star is an unfortunately dull and listless indie romantic drama that lacks a sense of distinction.

I like independent movies, but I think I’m done with indie romantic dramas featuring twentysomethings for a while. On the heels of Lust For Love, I took in the indie romantic drama Brightest Star based only on the fact that Clark Gregg and Allison Janney were in the movie. Sadly, they are not in the movie nearly enough to save it from being one of the early disappointments of 2014.

At the heart of my issue with Brightest Star is that it lacks the individuality or spark of an indie movie or the originality, message, writing or cast to break out as a mainstream hit. Brightest Star falls into niche of indie film for the sake of being an indie film. It’s a small film that does not seem to try to be anything bigger or more important than a little film that managed to get made. So, it starts with a twentysomething guy pining over his abandonment at the hands of his girlfriend, a blonde of course, with whom he has nothing genuine in common (she can’t seem to fathom basic astronomy while he is a pretty solid, smart geek). The movie develops like oh so many indie romances with a predictable plot wherein a young man comes of age through a break-up, finds a new love and has to make a conscious choice about where his life is going to go. More than half an hour is wasted on the deadweight of the first relationship before Brightest Star shows any hint of potential by repairing the protagonist with the woman he is supposed to be with (based on film formula).

A young man wakes up on the floor of the apartment he shared with his college girlfriend, Charlotte Cates, to discover that she has abandoned him and leased the apartment to Lita Markovic and her boyfriend, Ray. Lita and Ray allow the young man to stay while he gets his life in order. As the young man reflects upon how he managed to snag Charlotte and how he lost her, he gets his life in order and gets serious about his post-college plans. Abandoning his food service work, he accepts a job at Lita’s father’s financing company, despite not truly understanding the management job he would be doing there.

When he gets some decent success at work and gets into a fight with Ray, the young man makes a move on Lita. While this earns him a promotion at work, the young man finds himself unwilling to truly commit to Lita. Feeling a tug from Charlotte, the young man tries to choose between Charlotte and Lita and the finance job he is good at (but hates) and the astronomy career that actually interests him. The choices climax for him in a night when both Charlotte and Lita want him for important events and he must actually choose which one’s event to attend. After completely screwing up his personal life, he decides to pursue his dreams of working at an observatory, which leaves him buffeting through life struggling to find direction.

Brightest Star suffers most not because of the lousy (though predictable) decisions the protagonist makes, but from the writing and directing of Maggie Kiley. Kiley co-wrote the script with Matthew Mullen, but directed Brightest Star on her own. Unfortunately, the writers seem caught up with the novelty of writing the script for Brightest Star in a way that Kiley is not able to execute clearly. As a result, the first third of the movie features frequent flashbacks that are not clear. Lacking a linear narrative, Brightest Star comes across as more sloppy than stylish. The problem with failing to make a clear sense of event progression early in the movie hampers the middle third as the young man struggles with the pull toward Charlotte again. When she comes back into his life, it’s not clear that he’s not flashing back again to his prior relationship until the defining night where he has to choose between staying with Lita or going back to Charlotte.

Last year, the film with twentysomethings in crisis that left me most impressed was The Lifeguard (reviewed here!), but Brightest Star only has magic or realism in its middle section. When the young man grows away from Charlotte, Brightest Star takes off, but it does so remarkably quickly and then it burns out equally quickly. Alison Janney’s character of Jessica is in the film too briefly and Clark Gregg is not used in an even remotely interesting way. Kiley’s film is one of those indie films that is about the journey, not the destination. There are plenty of fine films that pull off stories that meander and make the viewer glad for the process as opposed to the more recognizable sense of growth in the movie. Brightest Star is not one of those films. In fact, save a few stray lines in the middle and the rather obvious summing up at the movie’s climax, Brightest Star lacks brilliant writing, interesting characters or situations clever or compelling enough to hook the viewer.

Sadly, this carries through to the protagonist as well. Chris Lowell has an intensity to him that is good, but unconventional; he has a bearing that makes him the natural replacement for Boris Karloff in any modern production of Frankenstein, but he’s a tough sell as a leading man. Does he land the quirky twentysomething geek? Yes and no. He does, but he’s not written to be that; he plays the corporate stooge with complete credibility and he lacks the quirks, obvious intelligence or charisma of a geek, so his character fails to resonate. Moreover, despite being established as a shy geek, he immediately pursues the Hollywood goodlooking young woman with confidence and ability that is utterly uncharacteristic for the type and then leaps into the relationship with Lita with surprisingly little zeal.

Lowell and Jessica Szohr have no on-screen chemistry, even for the scenes where they are just playing friends hanging out. When Lita is required to leap to her housemate’s aid, Szohr instantly telegraphs the romantic direction the scene will be turning to and the lack of surprise in that robs the scene of its resonance. Lowell plays his character as oddly detached with Rose McIver’s Charlotte and he never quite makes the protagonist seem like he’s lusting after her the way his lines state that he is. That said, Lowell manages the loss very well. The only real on-screen chemistry Lowell has is opposite Janney, whose character of Jessica is little more than a cameo.

Ultimately, Brightest Star is a fail, but it is not painful to watch (2.5 is about the highest I can give a movie that bored me more than it physically hurt or annoyed me to watch); the script inexplicably won a contest that won it the funding to be produced and I find myself wondering what the judges saw in it. Brightest Star is such a straightlaced, frequently formulaic, generally predictable and passionless film that never quite shines.

For other works with Chris Lowell, please check out my reviews of:
Veronica Mars
The Help
Veronica Mars - Season 3


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of films from best to worst!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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