In the music-fueled comedy All in Time, a Manhattan investment banker flies the corporate coop, returning to his Pennsylvania hometown to manage his favorite band. The “follow your bliss” setup might be the latest variation on a very old song, but filmmakers Chris Fetchko and Marina Donahue find a fresh hook, one that combines a charmingly no-tech sci-fi twist with a resounding affection for straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll.
Though the first-time writer-directors don’t entirely avoid awkward patches or clunky dialogue, especially in the early sequences, they find a winning balance between high concept and downhome sensibility. Using a mix of low-key magic realism and relatable characters, they offer convincing, unpredictable solutions to standard movie-formula dilemmas over the work-life balance.
Sean Modica brings an Everyguy quality to the role of Charlie, who’s first seen in suit and tie, wistfully listening to a busker before returning to his gray cubicle. The year is 1996, back in the music business’s pre-Internet, pre-Great Recession era. The recent period setting is crucial to the movie’s old-school vision (and its low budget). The filmmakers also mine it for subtle humor, as when Charlie’s mother bemoans his having turned his back on the “job stability” at Lehman Brothers to pursue his dream.
The dream, such as it is, plays out with hard work and little money as Charlie and his devoted intern, Clark (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), try to get Wilkes-Barre faves the Damnsels to the next level. With one hit and one major tour behind them, they’re 15 years into a career that has stalled on the local club circuit — all of which rings potently true. On the other hand, the indifference of the band’s songwriter-guitarist, Glen (Josh Burrow) — the only Damnsel who gets any attention as a character — feels forced and flat. Bitter over the “suits” who nixed the album he considers his personal best, Glen has one foot out the door, throwing the inevitable monkey wrench into Charlie and Clark’s plans for a concert featuring long-anticipated new material. Their last-ditch marketing hook for the show is a “time traveler” theme, inviting people to don duds from the rock era of their choosing. In a simple, affecting twist, some of those rock T-shirts on concertgoers might actually be from the future.
Glen’s desire to spend more time with his daughter dovetails with the standoff that develops between Charlie and his girlfriend, Rachel (Vanessa Ray, of the cop series Blue Bloods), who’s tired of competing with the band for his time and attention. Like most of the film’s characters, she’s represents an idea rather than flesh-and-blood complexity. Even so, her own career struggles make her more than the typical perennially slighted significant other.
Perhaps it’s the balance of male and female in the writing team, but the movie avoids the kind of pat answers that can push so many screen romances into fantasyland. When Rachel and Charlie have it out, their argument cuts to the core of who they each are, and proves transformative in unexpected ways. Furthering such breakthroughs is Charlie’s sometimes intrusive elderly neighbor, played by standout Lynn Cohen. Urging him to embrace life’s detours, she ultimately connects the story’s increasingly mysterious dots, her insights sharp and bromide-free.
Fetchko is drawing on his experiences managing Pennsylvania band the Badlees, who provide the Damnsels’ rootsy rock, a vital element of the movie’s persuasiveness. (The band’s lead singer and drummer, Pete Palladino and Ron Simasek, also play their onscreen counterparts, while Ellis Paul provides Glen’s singing voice in a pivotal scene.) As Charlie’s second client, singer-songwriter Laura Shay adds another strong indie facet to the movie’s soundtrack, although the character’s “who me?” attitude is a bit disingenuous given the polish of her songs.
In contrast to some of the overripe caricatures in the Brit comedy Still Crazy, the Damnsels look and act like middle-aged rockers. Spinal Tap-worthy moments arise without undue emphasis, as when the band’s name is misspelled on a marquee because the venue proprietor “needed the ‘L’ for ‘cole slaw.’”
The production’s tech and design aspects are solid and fittingly understated. Love of the music is signaled in the opening credits, which make clever use of equipment cases being unloaded by roadies. In unfussy fashion, d.p. David M. Dunlap (Shaun of the Dead) captures a world both lived-in and transcendent, from the Wilkes-Barre settings to the inventively matter-of-fact metaphysics that are all about fans’ ineffable gratitude and devotion.
Production companies: Corner Bar Pictures in association with Expressway Prods. and Headspark Prods.
Cast: Sean Modica, Vanessa Ray, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Lynn Cohen, Josh Burrow, Rob Bartlett, Laura Shay, Jay Klaitz, Pete Palladino, Ron Simasek, Thor Fields, Tom Wopat, Fred Norris
Directors: Chris Fetchko, Marina Donahue
Screenwriters: Chris Fetchko, Marina Donahue
Producers: Chandra Baird, Chris Fetchko, Marina Donahue
Executive producers: Paul Donahue, Robert Najim
Director of photography: David M. Dunlap
Production designers: Alanna Dempewolff-Barrett, Chuck Yarmey
Costume designers: Brenda Moreno, Rita Squtiere
Editors: Cindy Lee, Michael Taylor
Composer: Christopher North
Casting director: Judy Keller
No rating, 98 minutes