The Night Of The White Pants
It has to be a difficult choice for a film maker to decide to take on the combined genres of comedy and drama. At face value they might seem to be on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum; one makes you laugh while the other may bring you to tears. The truth of the matter is they are closer than you think. It has been said that comedy is just a matter of distance. If you see a man falling on a banana peel you will laugh. If you are close enough to see the look of pain on his face you are moved with sympathy. When making a comedy drama a director has to tread a very fine line between the two. He, or in this case, she, has to keep the audience far enough away from the situations to laugh ad then reel them in enough to reverse the emotional impact. In her film ‘The Night of the White Pants’ she manages to balance on that tightrope to near perfection. This is not to say that Ms Talkington does not make mistakes in the story and the presentation. She does and the film has its share of technical flaws. The thing here is the film is the type that is better received by the audience than the critics. One primary reason for this is how Talkington manages to connect with those watching the film. There is a degree of humanity to the characters and situations that what is seen is enjoyable. The movie embodies the spirit of the independent film. It cost about a million dollars which may seem like a lot of money but in the film industry it would barely cover trailers for the cast and crew. It was also shot in about three weeks. Talkington overcame these restrictions with more than a modicum of style. In the first viewing I was too caught up with the technical side of the movie. Then I decided to watch it again and just relax. It was then that I understood what was being done here and I enjoyed the film immensely. The film made the usual festival rounds and is getting a wider release on DVD through Image Entertainment. Those out there who is in the mood for a quirky film that this might be a good one to try. It is a solid piece of entertainment.
Amy Talkington has a few scripts too her credit that include a couple of shorts and a road trip drama. She also wrote the screenplay for ‘Brave New Girl’ based on a novel credited to Brittany Spears and her mother Lynn. Okay, that alone demonstrated that Talkington was willing to pay her dues in this field. Here she takes her story in a different direction. Her story has the usual standard characters for a tale about a highly dysfunctional family. After all that is a perfect source material for a film that needs to blend comedy and drama; we all have elements of such a family ourselves. The story just takes things to the limits with the age old technique of reductio de adsurbum. The characters here are admittedly painted with too board a brush to make this a character driven flick. They are mostly one dimensional stereotypes that for the most part only change or grow in a predicable fashion. What drives this story is the way Talkington sets up the situations and throws her characters into the mix. She takes these people on a bizarre ride though an almost existential journey. With a situational story it is vital to make the circumstances odd enough to keep things interesting but familiar enough to let the viewers feel that it could just happen to them. This is another fine line that Talkington treads well. It also taps into a typical plot point that is sure to pull the audience in. Even thought the main character here loses everything there is a sense of freedom from daily responsibilities that follows. Deep inside most of us is a little voice that urges us to chuck it all and just live. Of course we never listen; that would be ridiculous but that nagging feeling is what this film connects to.
As is typical for many independent film makers most of the scripts Talkington wrote were also directed by her. Since this is a situational driven story it is appropriate that Talkington employs a looser style than usual. With a character oriented film there has to be a tighter control of the action in order to push the story in the right direction. The way this film comes across is far more freewheeling. Talkington points the cast and lets them careen from one set of wacky circumstances after another. Her method of direction allows the talented cast to let go and have some fun with their roles.
The film is about Max Hagan (Tom Wilkinson) a very successful business man living in Texas. As the film opens we get a little taste of what is to come; a lawn that was once lush and green now sports brown spots, a sprinkler head tries to push up but only managers to spurt a bit of water. Max was a wheeler and dealer, had a beautiful trophy wife, Barbara (Janine Turner) and generally a life most men would envy. Then things began to turn around on Max. He had a heart attack and his company was sold. Making matters worse his wife has put him through one of the bitterest divorces in history. One evening he tries to sit down to dinner with his adult children. First there is Lolly (Geri Jewell) who is physically handicapped, Millian (Fran Kranz), the stoner and the high strung and motivated Beth (Selma Blair). Also along for the evening is Beth’s boyfriend Raff (Nick Stahl). He is a punk rocker whose day job is as a computer programmer. A little later it is disclosed that Raff is also the source of Millians seemingly constant supply of drugs. Before the evening gets too much of a chance to get started Barbara turns up with a pair of sheriff’s deputies and a bull horn demanding that Max leave the house immediately. She does not allow him to take anything but the literal clothes on his back. This includes the aforementioned white pants. With no where else to go Max winds up leaving with Raff. What ensues is putting Max through a pinball machine like night careening from one bad situation after another. Eventually they are joined by Felicia (Laura Jordan) who is the type of girl always up for a good time. There is an interesting development that as we watch Max fall apart we get to see that Raff is in his own way a very capable businessman.
The cast here is fantastic. Wilkinson has been a character actor for many years and has never disappointed his audience. He has that every man quality that allows the audience to feel for the plight of his character. Blair has made full career playing wonderfully strange characters. She is able to bring humor to the any role she plays. Here she is going somewhat against type portraying a straight perfectionist. Stahl has been turning up in the least likely places in film and television. He was fantastic in HBO’s short lived ‘Carnival’ and here gives excellent depth to the role of Raff.
This is a strange little film that grows on you. It is fun and shows a night that anyone would be glad not to have. Image Entertainment has some of the best in Indy film and this is a very good example. Get this one.