The Wednesday Night Save-The-World Society

Director: Dave Eisenstark & Fred Burke  
Ruth De Sosa, Dwight Hicks, David Grammer

Everybody these days is making a movie but me. Why, why can't I make my own movie? Sorry, forgot I was an adult for a moment. Anyway, given how grueling the art of filmmaking often is, I think I would rather keep spending my weekends and other times of freedom watching and reviewing movies instead of making them. But as difficult as filmmaking may be, it's certainly a lot easier in many aspects than it was even just a few years ago. That's partially because of the introduction of the digital video camera to the home market - affordable, lightweight, and easy to use. Then there is also the fact that PCs that are powerful enough to be used for movie editing are now affordable and available to the general public, along with the necessary software packages. So there's been an explosion in the number of truly independent movies being made, as the explosion of the number of independent film festivals all over the continent illustrates. Though it's still a rough ride out there for independent filmmakers; a lot of these film festivals lean towards "independent" films with some kind of major backing (money and/or personnel), which even the legendary Sundance festival is falling spell to. Then there is the fact that these films are often a hard sell to cable or video stores. But there's hope with the future. With the continued rise of technology and the Internet, I predict one day these truly independent filmmakers will be able to offer quick and high-quality downloads of their movies directly to the consumer, getting around the problem of distribution once and for all.

Until then, all I can advise truly independent filmmakers is to keep going, and never give up. Don't give up making movies. And don't give up So some copies of this movie aren't available to the general public? That's a small relieftrying to spread the word about them - keep thinking of ways to publicize them. That's what writer/director Dave Eisenstark (Creepozoids, Hack-O'-Lantern) did recently, offering me a screening copy of his latest movie, The Wednesday Night Save-The-World Society. I should point out that it helped that the description he gave me of the movie made it sound like it was a bona fide real movie, instead of one of those namby-pamby independent art movies nobody cares about where characters with tortured lives talk over coffee. Actually, the majority of the people in this movie do lead tortured lives, but the difference is that it's played out as a comedy, a satiric look at group support and certain character types commonly found in this day and age. Dee Barnes (De Sosa, Delta Force II), a middle-aged woman in the Los Angeles area finding various difficulties in her unmarried self, is inspired one day by a radio report to form her own discussion group, "to break down feelings of isolation and helplessness," as she puts it in one point. Her ad in the local paper brings various types to her group, among them a gothic chick, a shy environmentalist, a housewife secretly living in her car, and an arrogant jerk who thinks he's God's gift to women. Naturally, it's extreme chaos with all these different personalities butting heads with each other ever week meeting, not helped by the fact they find their meetings being written up in the newspaper, due to the fact one of the group participants (former football player Hicks) is actually an undercover reporter investigating this new discussion group phenomenon.

It doesn't take very long for Wednesday to make its first serious misstep. In fact, it happens in the first minute or so of the movie, passing over the fact that the comically-animated opening title credits displayed several seconds earlier loudly suggest that the sense of humor in this movie is going to be far from subtle. The movie does not show Dee getting inspired and creating her own group - instead, the movie tells us. We get several sentences printed on the screen that immediately tell us who the central character of the movie is, some facts about her, what she has decided to do, and why she has decided to do so. This kind of setup is a dubious choice on more than one level. The first and obvious one is that it can smack of laziness, as if the filmmaker couldn't be bothered to take the time to construct several scenes showing what this situation evolved from. Second, Good guys wear black - and some stereotypes as wellit gives us less of a feel for the main character; plunging a character we barely know anything about immediately into action makes it more difficult to decide what to think about him or her than if we had been previously been given several minutes of this character doing various other things before getting involved. And in the case of Wednesday, there is one other thing to consider; it robs the movie of potentially funny moments. Think of Dee getting into a tizzy about her personal problems; listening to the radio report; even planning and submitting the ad in the newspaper. A satirical edge could be found in such things, giving us humor while also giving us some insight into this character.

Now, the choice the movie made in opening the movie right at the beginning of the first group meeting wasn't necessarily a disastrous one. The movie could still have worked. It would just have had to figure out a way to show enough of Dee's character over the course of the movie, as well as the other participants of these group meetings, whom we know absolutely nothing about when we first see them arriving in the second minute of the movie for their first group meting. But in fact, after several more of these weekly meetings, we know little more about these characters than we learned in the first meeting. And it's not like the first meeting tells us that much in the first place. One of the things we do learn in that first meeting is that many of the characters are little more than extremely exaggerated cartoon characters that happen to be flesh and blood. A failed wannabe musician (played by David Grammer) is the classic couch potato slob, when not bursting into Broadway show tunes at seemingly random moments. The shy environmentalist (Peter Szumlas) spends most of his time at the meetings displaying carefully drawn environmentally-friendly innovations of his to the other members of the group. The gothic bulimic chick (Madison Wells), when not yelling various hateful and blunt statements, is seen constantly running to the toilet to throw up, and even the dubbed-in sound effects we hear each time we witness this unpleasant exercise sound straight out of something you'd hear from a Spike & Mike offering.

Maybe these kind of things would be funny in a cartoon, especially one that's short and not exactly demanding a lot of plot. But in this particular context, it's deadly. The movie wants to have its cake and eat it as well -Actor David Grammer points to something almost as worn out as parts of the scriptit's trying to find the funny side of real problems real people have, but any possibility of the movie working as a human comedy is ruined by its frequent turnaround into farce. And with those one-note caricatures I mentioned, not a particularly clever level of farce. There's nothing automatically funny anymore about a couch potato, or a woman dressed in black who thinks morbid thoughts. As I've said before about this kind of thing, you have to take it further, even if it's just presenting the stereotype in a fresher angle that audiences won't be as familiar with. The other characters in the movie are fortunately nowhere as stereotyped, though for the most part they have some kind of character attribute that pops up now and then to make them commit acts of uninspired farce - the homeless lady (Mary Margaret Robinson) several times abruptly grabs Dee's vacuum cleaner and start vacuuming around the house, for example.

The one exception is with the character of the undercover reporter. He is portrayed completely seriously, both with whatever he chooses to say and with how he reacts to the crazy people around him (not that far removed from how any home viewer will be reacting, by the way.) Without any extraneous silly material to hold him back, Hicks is able to give a pretty credible performance, with nothing in his speech or body language feeling the least bit contrived. The other members of the cast also show talent, but only the few times that the movie stops trying to be so farcical, so forced, so loud. In the second half of the movie, the movie stops being so frantic for several sequences, and it's here that the actors can practice their craft seriously, and be taken seriously. Take the scene when the arrogant jerk (Roger Ranney) offers to drive the homeless woman home when her car won't start. It's a compelling scene, because you can sense her rising embarrassment and shame the closer her secret gets to being revealed, and Ranney gives reactions believable (even for someone who was coming off as an arrogant jerk) towards her before and after the secret is revealed. The whole scene seems to come from a completely different movie.

In fact, seeing how the movie was directed by two people, I couldn't help but wonder Hicks, I know just how you feelif just one of the directors handled the better scenes of the movie. There is a much different feeling to these particular scenes, not just with the interesting fact that they virtually all take place outdoors and away from Dee's living room. Not every outdoor scene works, but even at their worst they're still a welcome relief from having to watch another endless scene of these characters crammed together in Dee's living room. Oh, towards the end of the movie there are a few good moments with them, mostly surrounding Robinson's character after her secret is revealed. But it relieves little of the pain these same characters generated for the previous hour or so with their past weekly discussions. As I said earlier, we learn almost nothing about these characters week after week of these meetings. There's no personal touch, no real emotion to anything they say. When not speaking like the cartoon characters they may be, they jump from topic to topic seemingly at random, sometimes even before they are seemingly finished the previous topic. And virtually nothing they say is the least bit funny or thought-provoking. In fact, thinking back on the movie, it's hard to recall anything specific they were talking about, given how utterly unmemorable (except for the pain) it all is. Wednesday has a lot to say, but I can't imagine anyone being interested in hearing any of it. The fact that it won a best feature award at the MiniDV Film Festival in Hollywood doesn't make me reconsider; it just makes me wonder what the rest of the competition was like.

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See also: Completely Totally Utterly, Lethal Force, 23 Hours