Friday, September 28, 2012

You Broke the Fourth Wall!: "FrICTION" (2010)

Film maker Cullen Hoback takes a small cast and miniscule budget and creates a piece of film making that will keep you thinking long after it is done.

We have all read about how some romantic relationships can end thanks to a partner being exposed to the intensity of a film set (think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). A film set can create its own little world- a microcosm of life and families and tragedy and relationships. Creative types can get lost in their characters' situations, mistaking that emotional euphoria for their own. Cullen Hoback goes in a new direction. What would happen if he scripted a film where a young couple on the rocks must deal with a teenage interloper into their relationship, and uses a real life young couple on the rocks who must deal with a real life teenage interloper in their relationship? Hoback is not playing puppet master here, this film chronicles what happens when true life and reel life intersect, but not in a vulgar reality television way.

Jeremy Mathison (all the characters use their real names) is running a small summer arts school in New Hampshire. Thanks to a financial scandal, he is only able to attract a handful of students, including a troubled young musician on scholarship. That boy, August, comes from a foster home upbringing, and only Jeremy's wife, frustrated singer Amy, seems to be able to bring him out of his shell. Director/co-screenwriter (with Jerome Schwartz) Hoback is also at the school, and decides to use the strained couple and August's crush on Amy, to make a film using the trio. He makes them use their real names, refer to their "characters" in the first person, and begins some very telling rehearsals. Jeremy's patience is stretched thin as he tries to control over half a dozen teenagers, Amy's life is strained as her singing career seems to be put on hold to help Jeremy realize his dream, and August has a huge secret of his own.

As things begin to change, and unravel, in their real lives, Hoback incorporates the events into the film, to the point where some of the scripted moments get uncomfortably real. Interspersed in the footage of the fictional film is interviews with the main players, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals, Hoback's confessions to his own camera, and onscreen text explaining what exactly was happening (Hoback's initial fictional film was not completed). In the same year that Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix participated in a filmed hoax that no one really cared about, "FrICTION" comes along and shows that Hollywood royalty how it should have been done. Hoback started with almost zero money, but he creates a film that I am certain you have not seen before.

Jeremy and Amy Mathison and August Thompson are simply fantastic. It is interesting that their "real" performances are sometimes different from their "movie" performances. Some of Hoback's "movie" scenes and rehearsals are stiff and stodgy (the unshot scene of Amy dealing with a homeless man temporarily portrayed by Jeremy), but then the rehearsals bring out some subconscious feelings between the married couple. August is a pimply-faced fountain of hormones, crushing on Amy while dating another student at the school. The interviews with the cast two years later looks like they were filmed two years after the school term, and serve as excellent book ends to the film.

I sometimes did not buy a plot point or two (the trip to Boston incident), but I am giving the film five stars based on its originality and performances. I appreciate Cullen Hoback's ability to restrain himself from flying into teen angst hysterics, keeping the characters and actors grounded in this endlessly interesting reality. This is a bold film making event but one that does not call attention to itself, instead sneaking its way into your head. (* * * * *) out of five stars.