Luckily in this case the filmmaker, James Ricardo, probably wouldn't leave the house long enough to attempt to murder me... and his debut film, Sunnyvale... is pretty good. Writer/ Director/ Star
That all changes when a cute neighbor chick arrives with the olive branch of all olive branches... in the form of a branch worth of Cannabis. Her name is Thai (April Wade) and she turns Hound's life on its unwashed ear. What follows is the closest thing to a relationship this lovable loser's ever had. And from that relationship comes another (Ute Werner's Dakota), then a third (Jesselynn Desmond's Rain)... then jealousy abounds like pizza boxes in the corner of Hound's kitchen.
Every man's fantasy? One would think! However, three times the woman means three times the nagging, bossiness and just about every relationship cliché you can shake a Ben Stiller movie at.
What I like about James Ricardo is that he isn't overly ambitious. We never catch him attempting to give us a galaxy-spanning super-adventure on a budget that most direct-to-video porn flicks would exceed. Instead, Ricardo packs his little film with the ingredient that makes or breaks a movie: Dialogue. Sunnyvale has less locations than My Dinner with Andre, but the viewer is hard pressed to notice this as Hound and Thai sarcastically pose cynical philosophies on everything in their little world and beyond. No, this isn't quite Clerks, but much of what Ricardo packs into just the first five minutes of his debut had me laughing out loud in spite of myself. It's not just dialogue, but the old, reliable physical comedy that makes this movie worth laughing along with. A well-placed eye-roll or dropped sandwich is worth a thousand words once you know the characters well.
However, as promising as Sunnyvale is, Sunnyvale isn't perfect. Ricardo is one of a generation of pop-culture referencing hipsters able to lace together a comical line out of just about anything. However, at times there is the occasional ungainly line that must have felt a lot better on the page than coming out of Hound's mouth. A few more takes might have made some of these feel a bit more natural, but much of the time James Ricardo's face looks like it's in need of a good gasp of air after ripping out a reference-rich zinger. His skill for dialogue exceeds his skill for plotting, and a as a few of the early hints become major plot points later on, there's not much of an emotional response from the viewer.
Sunnyvale is filled with some decent actors who come off like community theatre performers in the occasional dialogue-rich scene. Better pacing and more takes might have made this feel a little more realistic, but commonly there is a bit less acting than "Delivering a Line". Further, after the first half, the cohesion of the film is lost a bit, and the budget rears its head in the overlong third act as the audience wonders where the hell Ricardo is going with this story. Stay till the end, though because this is mostly made up for in the funny ending and the two hilarious Codas during the credits.
But, really, what do you want from a debut indie? I certainly didn't expect a film this good, and I was impressed with the comedy and the story-line. Even when no one knows what Ricardo is thinking, everyone will still want to know where he ends up, and will probably laugh their asses off along the way.
It's all in good fun, and even when a joke falls flat there's a new one to take its place in a split second, usually accompanied by a crack-up borrowed musical interlude. What's more, Ricardo, as director, is fully aware of the limitations he's facing here. As soon as I thought of something lacking, Ricardo, the character, would make a joke about it! It's very disarming, to say the least! This makes it a fine piece of Film Festival Fare and well worth the time to watch it. So, before the viewer rolls over and starts comparing this film to Whoreywood "Romantic Comedies"... take a look at a rough cut of Clerks, The Blair Witch Project or Open Water, and tell me this deserves a look less! Come on!
Three Stars out of Five for James Ricardo's Sunnyvale (more than I give most Whoreywood Films), the little comedy with a lot of laughs, and a hell of a posed question about the nature of the loser! As Ricardo's first film, I personally was impressed, and I'm looking forward to his second, third, fourth and ninth. Sure he could use a little spit-and-polish and maybe an extra edit or two, but show me other Indie-Indies on similar budgets and tell me they're better or funnier than this! So, until Ricardo's Magnum Opus wins the Palm D'Or at Cannes and James Ricardo delivers a breathless, self-referencing pop-culture diatribe for the masses and the ages, I'll see you in the next reel, Hound Dog!
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