The new generation of filmmakers is coming. With the actors and directors we know and love getting older, we have a whole new generation of younger faces taking the wheel. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hotshot director, actor and producer. Channing Tatum is a successful producer and actor, Jonah Hill is a two-time Academy Award-nominated actor and successful producer and writer, etc. etc... The point I am making is this: the old generation-- your Spielbergs, Lucases, Ramises-- are getting old and dying off. It's unfortunate, but it happens. We have to look to the new generation for the next big thing.
Which is why it is cool to see stuff like this.
The Play Button, a ten minute short by filmmaker/Youtube personality Gage Allen, is a short exploration of the importance of dreams and passion. Given how much time and effort these guys have put into the film, it's good to see that they believe in their message.
The film follows a man named Jim, who's stuck in a rut in his workplace and struggling to find an audience for his Youtube channel, which research and experience tell him is nearly impossible. As his boss is going off on him one day, Jim all of a sudden finds himself transported to a wooded area, where he realizes that his passion is making videos for his page and attempting to beat the odds.
I must first say that this is a pretty movie. It's hard to say from what we have seen how Allen will fare as a feature director (that much will be more evident the longer his films get), but from what we can glean from this venture he may very well have planted the seeds for a successful career as a Director of Photography. Each image is slick and focused and demonstrates an uncommon amount of discipline. There's no J.J. Abrams/Michael Bay lens flares here, no Paul Greengrass camera shaking. Rather, the film is populated with coherent imagery that is easy on the eyes without being dull or motionless, like much of the imagery from Sophia Coppola or even M. Night Shyamalan. Indeed, I would say that the visuals are the film's greatest asset.
The writing is kind of all over the place, but on the whole is a bit heavy-handed. We never get to know any of the characters, and thus they simply become vehicles for the film's message and ideas. The message of pursuing passion over comfort is good and all, but throughout I felt like it was a bit derivative of films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The over-assertive boss stereotype, the man who disappears into fantasy and isn't really qualified to do much besides his job, and the final realization that he needs to abandon his stationary way of life and pursue his dreams, it's all been done and here provides a sense of deja vu.
Nevertheless, there's a certain appeal to the idea of following your dreams that gives this short some backbone, as it does to most things that follow this pattern. It gives this short some steam and keeps it on its feet when the steam runs out. And as for the Walter Mitty comparison, it succeeds in areas similar to that with visual potency, an underdog story and the appeal of the message. At the end of the film, you can almost imagine Jim going on some grand adventure, not unlike Walter.
That last bit is the biggest problem I had with this movie. The moment where Jim disappears into his dream sequence while his boss is yelling at him is supposed to be the turning point of the film. It should be visually seductive and enticing, more vivid and standout-ish than the rest of it. And yet it blends in with the rest of the film, the visual palette remaining equally or almost as drab as the scenes in Jim's office. We get little sense that we have been transported to an oasis of epiphany. It just feels like another part of this world that Jim is envisioning, maybe even a flashback, where the shot composition is almost identical to that of Gladiator (hands drifting over fields of wheat, etc).
And I must say one more thing: the ending, like much of the film before it, is much too heavy-handed. The message of the whole story is literally displayed on the screen, via text embedded into the environment (much like the Walter Mitty opening credits). It literally reads "Your passion is you in the best form." Besides coming across as grandly self-indulgent, this is a common mistake from filmmakers early in their careers; they aren't confident enough to leave anything unsaid, to leave anything to audience interpretation. Instead, they use characters, text, montage or monologue (sometimes all four, thank goodness not in this case) to convey the message of their film. Let us think! Let us infer. Let us gather, comprehend, and perceive! Let us experience the film without spoon-feeding us!
To tell the truth about all of it, I can find something wrong with any movie, literally any one. This is no different. I really want to emphasize that this film shows potential. I went to school with Mr. Allen, and was able to witness some of his growth as a filmmaker. He's a talented individual, and if he keeps making strides like these, we could very well see him among the A-listers someday. Then I could say to people, "Dude, I know that guy."
Overall, The Play Button is a visually pretty short film, representing a solid and promising amount of energy from a young talent who has his whole career ahead of him. If I could give advice to Mr. Allen, it would be to work on subtlety, strive to deepen his characters, and to trust his audience a little more and leave the interpretation of the message to them.
You can find the official production company's website here: http://www.lotimsproductions.com/
And their Youtube page here: