'Well Wishes': Hollywood Fest Review

Courtesy of Heads Up Film, Caronova Pictures
Uneven, but sweet when it clicks.

Entrepreneurial spirit meets fountain-diving, and financial aspiration meets the meaning of life in a comedy by first-timer Anderson Boyd.

A feet-on-the-ground fantasy with a nicely underplayed comic tone, Well Wishes is part road trip, part romance and part starting-over fable. Writer-director Anderson Boyd’s well-cast debut feature centers on an unlikely business venture: scooping up the coins tossed in fountains. Spoofing corporate culture and other social conventions with a light touch, the film doesn’t entirely avoid corn as it moves toward its gentle, low-impact lessons in humility and fulfillment. But the movie, which premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival, has heart. That and Boyd’s ear for natural dialogue could help generate coin down the road in small-screen and digital formats.

Shane Callahan (Under the Dome) plays Miles, the likable everyman at the story’s center. The action kicks off when, in one fell swoop, his moronic boss (Nick Basta) fires him — on the basis of a coin toss — and his hideously controlling girlfriend (Audrey Speicher) leaves him. These are events that tend to go hand-in-hand in romantic comedies, and always signal a much-needed clean break. Though Miles is reduced to living in a house emptied of furniture and working as a Lady Liberty mascot for a mall retailer, it’s clear that better things lie ahead.

Inspiration strikes when he notices a Kennedy half-dollar in the mall fountain that serves as a modern-day wishing well. Miles’ first foray into renegade fountain "maintenance" nets an impressive haul. Best friend Jack (Cullen Moss) quits the job he hates to partner with him.

The men’s affinities and differences are evident in the actors’ unforced repartee. The more conventional Jack objects to Miles’ hiring of an elderly vagrant to help steer their enterprise. But the folksy Durwood (Don Henderson Baker), who has a certain spark despite his grimy hands, turns out to have a knack for tax law and investments. He and Jack manage the office and the rapidly growing revenue while Miles hits the road, targeting the fountains of North Carolina.

Accompanied by a zippy score that suits his ’57 Chevy station wagon (although Boyd, like many indie directors, fills his soundtrack with too many songs), Miles visits industrial parks, municipal buildings, shopping centers and stately gardens. In one picturesque site he encounters the down-to-earth but mildly mysterious Penelope (Anna Stromberg). She becomes his second hire, their romance unfolding as she very gradually divulges her reasons for being on the road. The seriousness of the situation becomes clear when they visit her parents (Jane McNeill and Bill Ladd) for a tense dinner — their TV trays one of many nice touches in Katie Bulla’s production design.

Bulla finds the right balance of organization and clutter in the interiors of Miles’ house-turned-office, where Jack and Durwood are joined by a staff of weirdos and misfits. It’s a comic element that could have been better developed but instead goes off-track in the form of an employee whose eagerness to please is over-the-top (Nate Panning).

Though clearly heartfelt, the narrative lands too softly, in part because Miles’ journey doesn’t feel like a huge leap. When we first meet him he’s misguided, having settled for material and emotional comforts. But his sincerity and good nature are never in doubt. And the story’s ultimate surprise isn’t likely to surprise anyone, undercutting the intended impact of Boyd’s points about appearance-based assumptions and narrow definitions of success.

But Well Wishes is further evidence of a vibrant filmmaking community in North Carolina, its impressive range of locales captured in straightforward fashion by cinematographer Daniel Satinoff. With a contemporary spin, Boyd and his collaborators have brought a story with a pleasantly old-fashioned sensibility to life.

Production companies: Heads Up Film, Caronova Pictures

Cast: Shane Callahan, Cullen Moss, Don Henderson Baker, Anna Stromberg, Nate Panning, Christy Grantham, Jane McNeill, Bill Ladd, Nick Basta, Audrey Speicher, Jon Stafford

Director: Anderson Boyd

Screenwriter: Anderson Boyd

Producers: Juan Cruz Pochat, Anderson Boyd

Director of photography: Daniel Satinoff

Production designer: Katie Bulla

Costume designer: Lauren Reeves Thomas

Editor: Anderson Boyd

Composers: Eric Kaye, Jason Payne

Casting: Tracy Kilpatrick

No rating, 94 minutes

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