Sundance 2010 Review: NEW LOW
Writer/Director/Producer: Adam Bowers
Cast: Adam Bowers, Jayme Ratzer, Valerie Jones, Toby Turner
After I popped the screener of Adam Bowers’ film NEW LOW into my DVD player, I decided to watch the film's trailer in order to get a better idea of what to expect. Big mistake. The trailer was filled with the Woody Allenesque foibles of an apparently 7 foot tall, 90 pound man struggling with life and love, and quickly, a sense of dread came over me. “Not another movie where a self absorbed twenty-something filmmaker makes a movie about a self absorbed twenty-something.” Ugh! With an impending sense of doom, I hit play on the film.
As NEW LOW started, I began to realize my fears had been rational as Wendell (Bowers) argues with his friend Dave (Turner) on the best way to dump a girlfriend he can’t stand. As the girlfriend sings happily in the shower, Wendell convinces Dave to do it for him and it’s chatty stuff. Kind of Woody Allen meets early Noah Baumbach which are two filmmakers I love but still, it was feeling like stuff I’d seen before. As Dave does Wendell’s dirty work, I slowly let my preconceived notions fall away and before long, I was completely involved with NEW LOW. And by involved I mean laughing, identifying with and completely digging the film.
Wendell soon hooks up with Vicky (Ratzer) who is a slutty, dirty, jerk of a girl and they begin a relationship built on bad sex, mutual loathing and dumpster diving in a never-ending search for free food. But the thing is, Wendell and Vicky kind of grow on one another just like NEW LOW did on me. Soon, as Wendell continues struggling to grow up, he decides to date greener pasture Joanna (Jones) who is a do-gooder of the highest order. She volunteers for community organizations and reads books. She gets Wendell involved in a world outside his own head which had previously been the place he loved to preside. But is Joanna too good for him? Should he just stick with the miserable Vicky and continue whiling away the hours at his video store clerk job?
Yes, these are all questions and journeys we’ve seen in several other independent films, but NEW LOW is different. Adam Bowers as Wendell (Bowers also wrote, directed and edited the film) is really funny and completely strange. His inside-his-head-but-outside-his-mouth dialogues are indeed throwbacks to the aforementioned Allen and Baumbach, but he delivers them in a funny, deadpan way. Plus he’s lanky and gangly and just oozes discomfort. Joanna and Vicky are really well realized both as polar opposite characters and terrific actresses as they each live their lives the way they want while Wendell struggles to keep up. Plus, the film doesn’t fall in love with itself so completely that it devolves into a pop culture catch-phrase fest like so many indie films of this kind tend to do. NEW LOW is uncomfortable, funny, sad, awkward and well done.
Granted, I do have a few quibbles with the film. Namely that it all feels like an audition for Bowers to show the world his stuff. I was cool with that in terms of the filmmaking but late in the action, there’s a scene in a comedy club that really tips Bowers’ hand in terms of what he’s “really” trying to do with this film. The scene fits in context of NEW LOW but just struck me as really self-serving. I mean, the film speaks for itself in terms of Bowers’ strengths and talents, I didn’t need the scene in order to understand he’s a comic actor and writer. The other minor issue I had was that even though I did enjoy the witty banter Wendell shared with himself, Dave and the girls, it started to feel a little forced by the end. Luckily, the film comes in at just under 90 minutes so it wasn’t completely redundant.
NEW LOW isn’t exactly charting new territory, but it’s a funny and enjoyable film. Bowers has real talent as a writer and an actor and his entire cast- particularly Jayme Ratzer as the sleazy yet somehow loveable Vicky- are really great. After a surely successful festival run, I hope someone takes a chance and puts NEW LOW out on DVD as it’s sure to find a nice following in the non-festival world.
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