Monday, 12 September 2016

Movie Review: You're Not Thinking Straight (2016)



When you’re someone who obsesses over films as much as I do, finding films purely by accident just doesn’t happen to me anymore. I mean, I follow the release schedules of my local cinemas quite closely; lord knows I need to know just how long it will be before the next film comes out that actively makes me question my sanity. Today’s film is a bit different, even within its boundaries of Australian independent cinema which I have covered on this blog a few times before. Basically, the guy who wrote/directed this film is a friend of friends and the Facebook page for his film just cropped up on my timeline a few weeks ago out of the blue. Since I will always look forward to witnessing a new Lead Me Astray and seeing something produced locally that is worth championing beyond national pride, I went along to the screening. But how is the film itself? This is You’re Not Thinking Straight.

The plot: Zack (George Ronsin), locking himself in a public toilet cubicle, reflects on the last few days on where exactly his life is going. Specifically, his encounters with prostitute Elly (Sage Godrei), his feelings for her and how she might be the only person who can set him on his path to adulthood.

Another indie Aussie cast… you know, it’s weird that I would consider this very exclusive situation to be where I’m most comfortable talking about actors. Maybe it’s because they have less of a prominent reputation that I can bruise if I say something unkind, I don’t know, but that’s hardly a worry with how solid the cast is overall. Ronsin channels a real sense of restlessness and general disdain for his direction in life, to the point where I am compelled to ask how much of his real-life experiences he is tapping into. Godrei may be portraying a variety of cinematic escort that irks me ever-so-slightly (look to my review of Sleeping With Other People for my views concerning sexual history vs. sexual present) but she does it well. She shows unease but also an infectious recklessness in her demeanour that may be one of the few instances of pixie dream girl that manages to bypass all the usual annoying trappings of the trope. Ali Aitken as Zack’s mother is eerie like someone from an 80’s horror A-movie, and yet her use in the film itself sometimes depict her as someone from an 80’s horror B-movie, and a weirdly cheesy one at that. Oh, and Jean-Pierre Yerma as Elly’s pimp is weapons-grade mindfrag material, at once somewhat humourous and utterly unnerving.

So, how are the production values on this one? Well, while it definitely carries some of the writing styles of more underground dramatic films, this certainly doesn’t look like one. The camera quality is solid and makes everything look like it fits on a theatre screen, the use of said camera and framing shows a lot of film school flourishes that, thankfully, actually serve a purpose rather than just being done for the sake of extra marks in an assessment. There’s a certain fetish for harsh red lighting that comes up every now and then, but otherwise this film has a very intimate and conversational tone with how close the camera gets. Space is not something to be found in great amounts here, but then again, the dialogue and events of the plot don’t call for big, extravagant camera shots. Considering how that very idea is usually employed by arthouse hacks in order to make their nonsense look far more important than it actually is, its absence here just makes the story feel that much more personal. The only real issue I find with this film structurally is the shot lengths; scenes seem to go on for far longer than they need to, possibly as a means of beefing up the running time to feature-length, and it’s often just holding on a character for an inordinate amount of time long after the point of the shot itself has made itself painfully obvious.

The usual mode when it comes to smaller-budgeted films, and quite understandably so, is to put most of the focus on the script and how it sounds coming out of the actors. Now, while the visual aspects of the film show that Luke Sullivan and co. didn’t skimp on that department as others have, you can definitely tell that this is dialogue that is meant to be heard rather than seen. I say this because it follows the unfortunate pattern of featuring long monologues by characters, kind of like those found in post-2000’s rom-coms where a character, and by extension the audience, is clearly meant to be learning something from the discussion. Except it can feel a tad aimless at several points, again feeling like words attached to the theme of the conversation are being spat out without any real cohesion between them. I refrain from calling this film pretentious because it itself doesn’t seem to be saying any of this with any sense of genuine learning. Instead, it comes across as these characters just trying to say what they believe, according to them and only them, about life, love and where the two intersect. It’s a tad rambly, and a few occasions of possible ‘Word Of The Day calendar’ material spring up, but it does end up working out in the long run. Partly because, even through the word salad, you still understand what they are getting at, and partly because the events that they take place in do more than enough talking to satisfy audience curiosities.

At its core, this is basically a coming-of-age story in a starkly literal sense of the term. Zack has just turned 19, been left to fend for himself and has to try and make sense of the world and what his place in it is. I stated before that I’m not a fan of the characterization of Elly, but at the same time she does bring a rather interesting facet to the idea of growth. Specifically, where sex comes into the picture. The loss of one’s virginity has, increasingly more erroneously, been considered the point where the transition between boy and man is made… or something to be ashamed of if you lack a Y chromosome, but quite frankly, that entire line of reasoning has enough whys attached to it to more than make up for it. Through the prospects of sex, lodging, companionship and just general lack of direction in one’s life, we see Zack’s progress through this very trance-like story intercut with him contemplating his actions in a woman’s public toilet… okay, that last bit sounds a lot skeevier than it actually turns out on-screen, I promise you. Anyway, that progress his character goes through, or rather the lack of progress, makes an awful lot of sense once you consider that the writer/director is roughly the same age as the protagonist of this film, and by proxy close to my own age. Maybe this is a thing only in our age demographic, but that sense of not knowing what the hell is coming next in terms of life and just lacking any idea on how to deal with whatever the hell ends up happening? Relatable is a severe understatement. And what’s more, again showing that this is a young-in at the wheel of this production, there are no definitive answers made. All we get is a depiction of a guy who, through very surreal circumstances, has to make a choice about what he does next. Honestly, the lack of an answer can sometimes be even more satisfying than actually receiving one; mainly, because it brings home the point that, for as much as they and indeed we try to say otherwise, we really have no idea how to proceed with life. There isn’t really a course that can be taken on ‘Life After 18 Years Of Age’, and I doubt that anyone would be knowledgeable enough to teach it anyway.

All in all, this is a remarkable work by a guy whom I sincerely hope doesn’t stop here as there is a lot of promise to be found here. The acting is good, the direction is a bit jagged around the edges but still tonally relevant and the writing, even through the hazy monologues that go on, does a great job at showing just how it feels to be of age and legitimately not have any idea how to live beyond that. Hell, I’m well past high school and I still have no clue what I’m doing; if I ever did, I fear this blog would simply cease to exist. Unlike previously reviewed Aussie indie flick Lead Me Astray, there is a chance to see this for yourself, both online and in cinemas, and I sincerely hope that you do. In the nauseous wave of people compulsively backing Aussie horses despite the fact that they clearly are destined for the glue factory, this is a local product that deserves support far as I’m concerned. It’s better than Ghostbusters, a statement that will no doubt cause derision regardless of one’s own feelings about the work. Personally, I just see this as a lot more consistently entertaining and watchable than that film, despite how much I liked its third act. However, for as well put-together as this film is considering its means, it doesn’t quite measure up to the commendable precision put into The Jungle Book.

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