Cinematic families don’t get much more dysfunctional than the one depicted in Alicia Slimmer’s feature debut based on her experiences growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1980s. The central character, 17-year-old Candy (Stef Dawson, The Hunger Games series), is forced to cope with her self-absorbed, emotionally absent mother (a terrific Rachel de Benedet); an older, drug-addicted brother (Danny Cahill); a younger, closeted gay brother (Ryan Weldon); and a seriously flatulent pet dog. The rest of her life isn’t going much better. Her father (Ray Abruzzo) has recently passed away; her boyfriend — a terminally jealous, black leather jacketed lout — seems to be modeling his mannerisms on Danny Zuko from Grease; and her boss at her burger-joint job is aptly listed in the credits only as “Dickhead Manager” (PJ Brown). It’s no wonder that she’s desperate to break out of Creedmoria.
That’s only a nickname for the nickname for the town in which she lives, inspired by the close proximity of the real-life mental institution Creedmoor, whose patients are seen walking through the streets as if auditioning to play zombies in The Walking Dead. Their frequent appearances lend a further surreal element to the already stylized, darkly comedic goings-on, which often have the feel of a sitcom pilot or a Broadway musical featuring instantly recognizable pop hits from various decades.
Slimmer sometimes has trouble keeping all of her narrative balls in the air, with the film lurching from episode to episode with tonal wobbliness. And a few of the visual flourishes, such as when a shot of a man’s post-fight swollen face dissolves into a close-up of a head of cauliflower, are more cutesy than clever.
Still, the film boasts an exuberant comic vitality that keeps the viewer engaged, and Dawson’s winning performance as the beleaguered heroine makes you root for her at every turn. And while many of its stylistic and plot elements are undeniably derivative, the net effect is less annoying than somehow comforting. It’s not surprising that this slight but diverting coming-of-age tale has already won such accolades as the Brooklyn Film Festival’s Audience Award, Cinequest’s Best Comedy Feature Award and Dances With Film’s Industry Choice Award. Creedmoria should find similarly receptive audiences upon a limited theatrical release.
Venue: Brooklyn Film Festival
Cast: Stef Dawson, Rachel de Benedet, Ray Abruzzo, Steve Cavanaugh, James Kelley, Ryan A. Weldon, PJ Brown
Director-screenwriter-producer: Alicia Slimmer
Executive producer: Clifton Leaf
Director of photography: Boa Simon
Production designer: Derek Anthony Welte
Editor: Ben Insler
Costume designer: Beck Brown
Casting: Roxanna Day
Not rated, 90 minutes