Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Embracing the Fall: "...Around" (2010)



As a fan of the documentary "Cinemania," I am aware of a segment of the population that loves film. Films, movies, cinema, motion pictures- whatever you call it, it is the center of their lives. This kind of obsessive love of an art form is what I expected from David Spaltro's "...Around." In fact, I got a whole lot more.

Doyle Simms (Rob Evans) is a New Jersey-ite from a broken home itching to go to nearby New York City and enroll in film school. His home life is a nightmare, where he and his sister (Ali Tobia) are terrorized by a very bitter mother (Berenice Mosca). Doyle has a dream, no real life plan, and packs up his belongings in plastic bags and departs. His first year is a bit rough, he returns home for the summer, then heads back to New York for another eventful year.

This year, he was late with some paperwork and denied financial aid. Suddenly, Doyle finds himself homeless, paying his tuition with credit cards, but living out of public restrooms and lockers. He shoplifts, and begins learning how to survive on the street, thanks in part to Saul (Ron Brice), who has accepted his lot in life and wishes Doyle would accept the same fate. Doyle gets an awful part-time job in a restaurant and meets (again) Allyson (Molly Ryman), a wannabe actress who he has already seen nude thanks to our hero conning himself into an anatomy drawing class at his art school. Allyson is very weary of the charming Doyle, but eventually warms up.

Doyle keeps returning home to be berated by his increasingly unstable mother, then flees back to his new burgeoning relationship with Allyson. He eventually saves up enough for a tiny apartment, keeps trying to come up with a film thesis, but in his brain, he is still "homeless," feeling trapped when inside. Saul's forecast of "Movie Star"'s life (Saul nicknamed him after hearing Doyle is in film school) looks like it is coming true. Despite new friends and surrogate family members, Doyle's life is not coming together as he (and others) imagined it would. It would take a real family emergency for him to reluctantly change, and even then the transformation is both difficult and partially incomplete.

Writer/director David Spaltro based his film on actual experiences, and it is clear the he is showing us his story. He tells us in his film that everyone has a story, but never crosses into touchy-feely territory (unexpectedly). I've never been homeless (came close a couple of years ago), only went to film school for a semester (all film study courses, never touched a camera), and I am divorced (and not dating), but I still completely associated with Doyle's outlook on life, and those life experiences. The film is dark and depressing, but I found it watchable, as Spaltro gets the audience to care about someone who many would have written off a long time ago.

Rob Evans as Doyle is excellent. While some of the casting and aging is a little awkward with the cast, Evans and company carry the picture. Molly Ryman is also wonderful in her role, never idealizing Allyson as an unattainable love interest. Ron Brice and Marcel Torres add gravity as Doyle's friends, and Spaltro gives them great material, so they never become just "supporting friend characters." Mosca is also great, her scenes with Evans in the hospital are also familiar and universal, even though I have never experienced anything like them in my personal life. Spaltro's direction is fantastic and the editing is very professional, making good use of what he shot.

My only complaints concern technical aspects, really. Some of the dialogue is a bit hard to understand, and a few scenes sag here and there (especially the Mona the dancer subplot, which seems unnecessary). There was some confusion about the wrap around scenes on the bus (too few). I like that Spaltro used actual New York City locations, and wish more productions would. The city has a look and feel that cannot be duplicated in Toronto or other stand-ins.

The title "...Around" comes from an answer Doyle gives when asked where he lives. The film is so much more than a story of a homeless guy who gets through film school. It addresses the definitions of friendship, family, and life. Spaltro and his cast and crew do a nice job, creating characters I came to care about. (* * * *) out of five stars. Buy this film here!: ...Around