Pasadena – Day 9 – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

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Pasadena is a brand new film from Director Will Slocombe. It is so new, that they called its screening at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival its World Premier. So new that they don’t even have a trailer out yet. How new is it Mike? So new that they don’t even have a full-fledged movie poster out yet either. What you see is more akin to a graphic design than a movie poster.

Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Witt, Sonya Walger, Amy Ferguson, Ashton Holmes, Ross Partridge, and Wilson Bethel, the film is best described as being about an hour and a half of emotional terrorism, the kind that can only happen within a family, over a series of days around the time of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. People sit down for dinner, but what is served at this dinner is not an overcooked turkey, or some poorly prepared food – instead, what we are served is nonstop nastiness.

Your cast

Your cast

It’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie only without the surreal overtones. It is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf but with eight people instead of four.

Peter Bogdanovich plays Poppy, the family patriarch. He’s married to Cheryl Hines who is his second wife. They have one young son. Poppy has two grown daughters from his first marriage – Lindsay and Nina who is the black sheep of the family and no one has seen her in 15 years. Hines as Poppy’s wife Deborah has her own adult son and he’s there with his wife. Lindsay is there with her husband and son. And when Nina arrives, dreadfully late, with her boyfriend and dog in tow, only then do they sit down for dinner. But things go downhill rather quickly.

This is one hell of a dysfunctional family. Poppy’s wife Deborah snores like you wouldn’t believe. Poor Poppy wakes up at the crack of dawn only too eager to leave his marital bed, and escape the din of Deborah’s snores. And to pour himself a nice tall vodka on the rocks.Yes, even at the crack of dawn. This is a running theme for Poppy – he always has a drink in his hands. Always.

Pretty soon Nina and Lindsay start sniping at each other. There is some humor here and there in all of this, but it is spread out so thinly, and so infrequently, that you might miss it, and it seemed that most of the time, when some folks laughed, they were in a distinct minority.

So rather than injecting some humor, what we get is a verbal slugfest. You know, you can only get hit by a pillow for just so long, and then it becomes something you hope would stop soon. When you factor in that each of the four couples have their own issues, the intensity ratchets up disproportionately, even though those are relatively minor compared to the bigger ones between Lindsay and Nina. Grown daughters yes they are – but adults? Far from it.

But wait – we’ve only scratched the surface. It seems that both Lindsay, Nina, AND Jacob (Deborah’s son) all need something from Poppy. They each have a private discussion with him. He’s overwhelmed, and beyond that, it all goes public, requiring everyone’s secrets to become public knowledge right there at the dinner table.

To top it off, Poppy has some secrets of his own.

I think Slocombe has made some interesting stylistic choices – the music, the long cuts, the closeups, and even the lengthy tracking shots. I did like that one thing he does with the camera like trailing around Poppy as he peeks into each of the bedrooms to check out that everyone is still sleeping. Which means Poppy can escape Deborah’s snoring by taking his tall cold one out to the back yard.

But what we needed most of all was some lightness. I don’t want to serve as the punching bag for the director and his actors. But sadly, if you travel to see Pasadena, that’s what will happen to you.

You know what got laughs? Some title cards interspersed between the days of the weekend. Sorry, but seeing a black screen with text reading The Night Before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Night, and Christmas are not intrinsically funny. Yet they drew laughter.

I’m saying that I can’t even call this film a nice try. Even the actors, when they were good were much too one-note-ish. Hines rarely smiled. She seemed cold, not the least bit in love with Bogdanovich’s Poppy. And Poppy never changed his expression throughout the entire film.

Having said that, I will say the Alicia Witt as Nina, and Sonya Walger as Lindsay were terrific. But the overall tone of the film washed away their brilliant performances. I’m bringing this one in at two point seven five on a one to five scale. I’ll also label the film as a major disappointment.

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