…Around – Review

Embrace the fall

Image Courtesy of Aroundthefilm.com

Director: David Spaltro
Notable Cast:
Rob Evans, Molly Ryman

In the last 20 years, the art of film-making has changed so radically that the original studio system would not recognize Hollywood as it stands now. It used to be that making a film required years of work up through a studio system designed to weed out the untalented (or those who weren’t connected enough) and hopefully produce a high level of film-making. Writers and directors had to earn their chances. And then a funny thing happened: Hollywood Shuffle.

Robert Townsend’s seminal work on being a struggling black actor in Hollywood, financed on his own credit cards and paying him back both critically and commercially many times over, became a sort of manual for a struggling auteur. It had been done before, but never so successfully. It became a calling card to fame in the same way stand up comics embrace the “Eddie Murphy Method” of becoming comedic actors (star in a detective story showcasing their comedic talents). If you were willing to take a big risk, sometimes the reward can pay off. Vin Diesel’s career was launched with a self-produced film (Strays) and Robert Rodriguez started his directorial career by volunteering for medical experiments to fund El Mariachi, amongst others. Mel Gibson invested much of his own personal fortune into The Passion of the Christ, which ended up as one of the highest grossing films of all time.

David Spaltro, seizing on this, invested $175,000 of money he didn’t have in the same way Townsend did (on as many credit cards as he could get his hands on) for an autobiographical look at his own life in …Around. Following the tale of Doyle (Rob Evans as the stand in for Spaltro) as he ventures through four years at New York City’s School of Visual Arts in some rather amusing ways. Along the way he develops a bond with Allyson (Molly Ryman), spends some time homeless (where gets sage advice from unlikely sources) and learns a lot about himself in four years of self exploration.

For a debut picture, Spaltro shows a veteran know how in handling his story. This is a personal film in the manner that was significantly more popular and done more often 40 years ago, like Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but Spaltro keeps it fresh by not using older, clunky story-telling methods. The film is told from Doyle’s perspective, utilizing voiceovers and narratives on occasion, as Spaltro has a strong manner in which he directs. This is a confident film-maker not trying to exceed his bounds, shooting to make a masterpiece and squeezing everything he can out of what he’s been given.

Compare this to the recent remake of Fame, following a similar story in a Performing Arts high school. Given a similar narrative of young people finding themselves through four years of education, one is left with a clunky remake to a film that didn’t require one. With a cast of unknowns obviously way more talented then a high school student would be, one imagines what an unknown director like Spaltro could’ve gotten out of that cast. As it is, Spaltro also gets good performances out of his cast of unknowns. Evans makes Doyle, who could be unsympathetic and a bit of a jerk in the wrong actor’s hands, into someone we want to see succeed. Doyle is a realist who is sacrificing everything for a dream for the right reasons. He wants to be an artist, not famous or rich, and he gives it a sense of nobility. But Evans gets outshined by his co-star, Molly Ryman.

Ryman is the film’s revelation. She’s wondrous on the screen with presence, balancing what is a difficult part between friend and potential love interest with delicacy. If this was a film that had a major marketing budget behind it and got into theatres en masse she’d be a rising star. Credit the film’s script for giving her the opportunity to shine. Allyson in a film with a bigger budget or a studio behind it would be a throwaway role and credit Spaltro’s script for developing the character in a meaningful way. When her and Doyle reach an impasse in their friendship and it takes a decidedly different turn then either expected it, a less skillful script would take away a lot of the good will her character engenders throughout. We can see both sides of the story and Ryman is good enough that Evans raises his abilities to match her.

It’s an interesting moment that comes together because of two actors in a moment put together by a great script. The dynamic developed over the film’s first two acts builds slowly and is assured in both pace and style; it’s interesting to see a first time director directing what obviously is deeply personal and giving it a context that doesn’t paint the fictional version of himself in the best possible light. It takes guts as a director, guts that some wouldn’t (or can’t) do, and credit Spaltro for being an honest film maker in that regard.

The film’s major failing point is that it looks every bit of the low production values. It looks like an expensive home movie, albeit one with an attention to camerawork, but sub-par nonetheless. Given the nature of independent cinema it is par for the course, as it’s not far behind in terms of production values, but still looks like a cheaply made independent film. Despite this, …Around may be harder to find but is well worth the viewing. It’ll be interesting to see what David Spaltro does in the future behind the camera; for a debut made on a shoestring he’s outperformed many other directors working with higher catering budgets then his production budget. This is a film that aspires for greatness and just misses, but comes close enough to be worth the effort.

..Around is currently available for download off of Net Flix and Amazon.