'Billy Bates': Film Review

Billy Bates Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Joonie Jang

Billy Bates Still - H 2014

Get thee to a therapist

James Wirt plays the title character in Jennifer DeLia's debut feature about a tortured artist

"Where do you think fear comes from?" That's but one of the many silly unanswered questions put forth in Jennifer DeLia's debut feature about a tortured artist (as if there was any other kind). Featuring dreary psychoanalyzing, dreamlike surrealism and endless shots of its title character staring forlornly into space, Billy Bates traffics in enough clichés to fuel a dozen indie features.

James Wirt is suitably soulful and handsome as the successful artist who lives in the sort of massive New York City warehouse space that immediately induces real-estate envy. Despite his many trappings of success Billy is clearly miserable, apparently still tortured by an unhappy childhood and issues of abandonment and abuse depicted in a series of flashbacks that resemble the sort of playacting conducted in therapy sessions presided over by quack shrinks. Not that Billy has any use for analysis, as his fervent declaration of "Fuck Freud!" indicates.

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Helping Billy wrestle with his plentiful inner demons is the beautiful singer-songwriter—again, is there any other kind?—Kaia (Savannah Welch), who immediately after meeting him returns with him to his home studio where he creates the sort of artworks that—in one of the film's few if sadly ealistic elements—commands thousands of dollars in chic Chelsea galleries.

Featuring heavy doses of poetical and usually nonsensical voiceover narration, the film also includes a gauzily photographed athletic sex scene. Of course, the real sex object on display is not the gorgeous Kaia but rather the artfully scruffy Billy, who in one of the film's lengthier sequences takes a shower in which he washes his body parts with a thoroughness that demonstrates an admirable attention to personal hygiene. He's later seen carefully deliberating over which color shirt to wear—grey or pink—as if he was Richard Gere in American Gigolo.  

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But it's really another iconic screen character who this film calls for. Watching the self-pitying Billy endlessly agonizing over his privileged yet apparently dismal existence, one longs to see Moonstruck's Cher slapping him hard in the face and yelling "Snap out of it!"

Production: Four of a Kind Productions, Rainstorm Entertainment, Clayhead Pictures, Poverty Row Entertainment
Cast: James Wirt, Savannah Welch, Margherita Missoni, Josephine de la Baume, Zoe Twitt, Sally Golan
Director/screenwriter: Jennifer DeLia
Producers: Julie Pacino, Robert MacCready, Ron Stein, Jennifer DeLia
Executive producers: Ed Jacobson, Said Zahraoui, Steven G. Kaplan
Directors of photography: Mike Washlesky, Salvador Bolivar
Production designer: Christopher Stull
Editor: Barry Farrell
Costume designer: Anya Taraboulsy
Composers: Ryan Welker, Aaron Brooks, Daron Murphy, James Robertson

No rating, 80 min.