'The Bachelors': Film Review | LAFF 2017

Courtesy of LA Film Festival
A heartfelt indie drama.

J.K. Simmons stars as a grieving widower alongside Julie Delpy and Josh Wiggins in Kurt Voelker’s tightly focused drama.

Overcoming a death in the family is never an easy transition for survivors, but for the two men at the center of Kurt Voelker's family drama The Bachelors, adjusting to their loss becomes literally a matter of survival. Treating the issues of grief and recovery with touching restraint, the pic ably demonstrates the healing effects of love and compassion, making it a fine fit for a discerning distributor.

Following the unexpected death of his wife Jeanie (Kimberly Crandall) from terminal illness after 33 years of marriage, Bill Palet (J.K. Simmons) abruptly relocates from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area with his teenage son Wes (Josh Wiggins). Accepting a position at all-boys prep school St. Martin's, where his college friend Paul (Kevin Dunn) is headmaster, Bill starts teaching calculus and Wes begins classes after they move into a modest rental home.

Their new routine establishes a semblance of normalcy, but Bill struggles to move on from his wife’s passing, stuck in a functional state of deep depression. Concerned for his welfare, Paul refers Bill to a psychiatrist, who prescribes anti-depressants, which only make him feel more disconnected. Wes begins making new friends after he's reluctantly forced to join the cross-country running team and takes more of an interest in his courses after learning about the girls who bus in daily from their single-sex school to sit in on classes.

When his French teacher Carine (Julie Delpy) assigns Lacey (Odeya Rush) as his homework partner, Wes suddenly finds himself associated with one of the most notorious female students taking St. Martin's classes. Well aware of Lacey's troubled reputation, Carine attempts to lend support by befriending Bill, who's flattered by the attention and starts to emerge from his chronic lethargy.

As parallel romantic subplots develop between the men and their respective love interests, it's not hard to see The Bachelors as a feel-good, grief-recovery drama. Voelker has more on his mind, though, seeking to test the outer limits of love, commitment and loyalty. Despite rearranging the outward appearances of his life, Bill remains devastated by the loss of Jeanie, sleep-walking through what's left of his formerly happy existence. He's so incapable of letting go of the past that he's making himself seriously ill. As Wes attempts to assimilate his loss by throwing himself into the catharsis of endurance-running, Bill can only look backwards, stuck in the past.

Although Carine offers a healing influence, Bill can't see beyond hopeless comparisons with Jeanie that only result in disappointment. For Wes, the challenge with Lacey becomes understanding the limitations and possibilities of a young woman with self-destructive tendencies and an unapproachable attitude. Whether these relationships will offer the men an opportunity for healing really depends more on whether they can accept their own emotional wounds by developing compassion for one another's suffering and building the mutual trust to move forward with their lives.

Although this may not be Simmons' most exemplary performance, he lends an admirable gravitas to Bill's predicament that elevates the role above the stereotype of a grieving spouse. Wiggins impresses while juggling the roles of loyal son and lovestruck teen, visibly struggling with Wes' quest for independence and self-identity. 

The always-reliable Delpy brings a quiet assurance to Carine's tentative attempts to crack Bill's defensive shell and reveal his potential for regeneration. At the same time, Rush successfully contends with shedding Lacey's prickly personality in favor of greater vulnerability and honesty as she seeks to form a stable bond with Wes.

Voelker excels at guiding the cast through some complicated emotional territory and maintains strong arcs for each of the principal characters. Although the film's conclusion may be a bit too neat, there's a reassuring symmetry to the narrative's optimistic resolution.

Production company: Windowseat Entertainment
Cast: J.K. Simmons, Josh Wiggins, Julie Delpy, Odeya Rush, Kevin Dunn, Kimberly Crandall
Director-writer: Kurt Voelker
Producers: Matthew Baer, Joseph McKelheer, Bill Kiely
Director of photography: Antonio Riestra
Production designer: Richard Sherman
Music: Joel P. West
Editor: Anita Burgoyne
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival

99 minutes