In many ways Hollywood represents our culture in microcosm. It is a city built on dreams and the artistic means to bring them to life or at least lay these aspirations bare for examination. It is also a company town. No less dependent on one marketable product as a gold rush boom town or a city that thrives only because it provides a home for a much needed commodity. How Hollywood reflects the broader expanse of the human conditions has been explored many times in the past, typically it manifests as a filmmaker stepping back several paces to uses the unique social, artistic and fiscal motivation if this city as a back drop for a self parody or perhaps in some allegorical fashion to provide some commentary on the widely identifiable facets of life. I have enjoy the wink and nudge inside jokes present in these films and over the years found many quite good as a film in general. One of the recent ‘set in tinsel town’ movies I’ve encountered impressed me more than I thought possible as I read the press release. ‘Black Limousine’ is the type of movie that will receive the moniker, ‘sleeper hit’ but there is nothing remotely somnambulistic about the film. originally released under the title ‘The Land of the Astronauts’ this latest opus by Carl Colpaert is certainly one of the most well constructed and executed movies I have come across in a long time. This is the kind of film that could only be made within the venue of independent films. In what can be considered a touch of irony the Hollywood studies that have created and maintains the dynamic of the city is antithetical to the elements that form the foundation of this movie and set the stage for its presentation. While money is a concern to any auteur there is a difference between the Indy and studio filmmaker. The studio is first and foremost a business with a fiduciary responsibility to investors. In contrast independent writer/directors like Mr. Colpaert money are necessary to make the films but in cases like this it is obvious that underlying it all he is an artist whose medium is film. This movie explores a depth of humanity that eschews the mainstream action and special effects in order to reach the audience by telling them a story.
Jack (David Arquette) has always had aspirations of creating music and worked his way up to the point where he was a fairly successful composer. Like all too many people just at the point that his professional life was taking off he sabotaged his own life. Drinking binges spiraled into self destruction that that threatened to destroy his burgeoning career before it could gain traction. He was reduced to working merely to eke out an existence by driving a limousine. A significant portion of his clientele is chauffeuring celebrities around town in pursuit of their fame and success. For Jack driving has gone beyond a means to earn money; it expanded to filling the empty hours of his life. Jack meanders around the city streets between his assignments in an attempt to numb his mind from the every present despair. While we have all seen this trope numerous times this filmmaker has managed to give it a certain twist that immediately draws you to the character. Trying to make a dent in adjusting the downward spiral of his life Jack attends AA meetings. There he meets another lost soul, Erika (Bijou Phillips), an energetic wannabe singer/model/actress that just can’t catch a break. Also present at the meetings is a regular client of Jack’s, Thomas (Nicholas Bishop), a narcissistic actor who is somewhat of star although the degree of fame he commands is grander in his mind. Gradually the audience is provided with the etiology of Jack’s distress unfolds. He has an ex-wife (Carla Ortiz) who blames him for the death of one of their daughters. Their remaining child, Kate (Jacqueline Mackenzie, remains a daddy’s girl. Carla’s new husband, Russell (Patrick Fabian) holds Jack in complete distain.
Most of this may seem exceptionally familiar and in fact there is nothing novel about the fundamental premise it is the way the film is constructed an executed makes all the difference. This is where the routine Hollywood angst flick is left behind. Colpaert’s script elaborates on Jack’s live from the inside out. We get to understand what is going on in his head in a gradual fashion. Fans of mainstream films have been indoctrinated to immediate gratification. Indy film buffs tend to have an appreciation of a story teller taking a deliberate approach. This film requires tome to unfold. First we get to know the character from his own perspective which is ten elaborated on as we see Jack interacts with others. At one point depicting the growing relationship between Jack and Erika takes a decidedly surreal tact. It provides a contrast to the solitary, introspective existence Jack follows. A new relationship can be vivid and depart from the mundane. Normally Jack prefers the isolation of his limo to the company of others, which is until Erika enters his life. Then, as is the case with such emotional entanglements, perceptions are altered as represented in the movie but a distinctive and novel change in the visual presentation of the story. The dreamlike change in the vantage point makes the audience question the state of mind that Jack possesses. The thing is it fits so well with the story being told; a man who is adrift in life because he has failed to hold on to a solid way of seeing his life.
Jack has lost a child, seen his marriage crumble and his career self destruct. His initial reaction is top isolate himself in the front seat of a limousine separated by from his passengers. That front seat becomes his refuge as he drives around in solitude almost constantly. AA is an attempt to hold but it also forces Jack to deal with other people including his polar opposite in Erika. Frequently a story of reversal in life, particularly one set near the entertainment industry the central character is a tragic figure victimized by the compulsion to be famous. Jack is so fascinating precisely because he was not cast in that hackney mold, I did not receive the impression that there was any apology for Jack. External circumstances contributed to the downward turn in his life but his ultimate foible his humanity, make bad choices and stumbles through life. His means of self medicating with alcohol is shared by others outwardly very different such as the self centered Thomas. With Erika there is the potential for two damaged people to help each other. In this regard it reminded me of Hal Hartley’s ‘Trust’. As the director of the film Colpaert is able to step back to show this character’s life objectively not playing the blame card to any significant degree. He exhibits a control that is incredible to watch. The pacing might be seen as dragging but it is the only way Jack’s life can be related to the audience. He is not experiencing explosive personal grown but changing as life constantly reshapes us all. Normally you might think of David Arquette id silly clownish roles but his tour de force portrayal here proves this actor has a dramatic emotional depth we have not seen before. This is certainly a film that you will want to see several times just savor it fully.