Already winner of the award for "best local feature" at last fall's Indie Memphis Film Festival, Act One (from East Memphis filmmaking collective Old School Pictures) joins even more exclusive company this week by becoming the first local indie feature since Craig Brewer's The Poor & Hungry to get a weeklong theatrical run.
A clever post-collegiate romantic comedy about a young Hollywood screenwriter juggling professional and personal crises, Act One isn't a work of art on the level of The Poor & Hungry, but it might be the most polished all-around local feature since Brewer's breakout movie.
Sharply directed by Brad Ellis, shot in film-like digital video by Matt Weatherly, and written by and starring Allen Gardner, Act One displays a more mainstream sensibility than most successful local indies. The film's milieu of shallow but (ostensibly) engaging young men on the make brings to mind Swingers, while the journey from frat-sex-comedy set-up to a stab at maturity compares favorably to Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. And the film wraps these twentysomething concerns in a conceit -- Gardner's screenwriter is writing his next movie as he lives it -- that evokes Adaptation.
Though Act One is the ninth film from the Old School crew, it has the coming-of-age feel of a first film and is such a huge step forward from the group's 2002 Indie Memphis winner The Path of Fear that it may well be a "first" film of sorts. There's a film-geek self-consciousness here common to movies by young videophiles but also an honest yearning to move past that. But, more importantly, Ellis and Weatherly demonstrate the technical ability to make movies at a much higher level if given the chance. And Gardner does an able job of carrying a movie. He's the focus of almost every scene and transitions from lowbrow comedy to convincing drama.
Opens Friday, February 17th,
at Studio on the Square