'Below Dreams': Film Review
Garrett Bradley's debut feature concerns the lives of three struggling twentysomethings in New Orleans
Depicting the aimless lives of three twentysomethings in New Orleans in a vaguely impressionistic, seemingly improvised style, Garrett Bradley's debut film is stronger on atmosphere than narrative coherence. While it features some pungently observational moments, Below Dreams is ultimately too diffuse and disjointed to have the desired impact.
The film loosely revolves around three characters dealing with financial and personal struggles. New Yorker Elliott (Elliott Ehlers) has trekked to the Big Easy in the hopes of reconnecting with an ex-girlfriend. Single mother Leanne (Leanne Miller), living in her mother's home with her four children, dreams of becoming an actress or model. And ex-con Jamaine (Jamaine Johnson) is in desperate search of employment to support his girlfriend and kids.
That the character names correspond to the actors' is an indication of the filmmaker's cinema verite style which provides only sporadic rewards. For every scene that resonates — such as Elliott's odd bus stop encounter with a man who says he's writing a book about the homeless, or Jamaine receiving a lecture on improving his appearance to increase his job prospects from a friend giving him a ride on his motorcycle — there are far more that feature aimless, rambling conversations or atmosphere-setting depictions of a sweaty jazz club or a group of kids playing a game of pickup basketball.
For all the humanism evident in her approach, the filmmaker ultimately doesn't seem all that interested in her characters whose stories are depicted in a frustratingly fragmented fashion. Even with its short 74-minute running time, the film drags on purposelessly, with long stretches of tedium as a result.
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At times resembling a documentary in its starkly realistic style, Below Dreams lacks the thematic heft to sustain interest. It boasts crisp visuals and a dense music and sound design, but never manages to make us care about its characters' fates. Even when Jamaine undergoes a dental procedure (vividly rendered) to remove his gold teeth, which might alienate potential employers, it feels less cathartic than simply another hopeless gesture in a life that seems to be going nowhere…much like the film itself.
Cast: Elliott Ehlers, Rebecca Matalon, Jamaine Johnson, Leanne Miller
Director/screenwriter/executive producer: Garrett Bradley
Producers: David Stekert, Drew Vogelman
Directors of photography: Brian C. Miller Richard, Milena Pastreich
Editors: Garrett Bradley, Joe Murphy
Composer: Brian McOmber
Not rated, 74 minutes