Chu and Blossom: SBIFF Review

A big-name supporting cast isn’t enough to rescue this struggling comedy.

Debuting directors Charles Chu and Gavin Kelly premiered their indie feature at the Santa Barbara fest with Alan Cumming, Melanie Lynskey and Mercedes Ruehl in minor roles.

The first time isn’t exactly a charm for feature directors Charles Chu and Gavin Kelly, whose Chu and Blossom reps a raft of indie cliches, bound together by a forced comedic sensibility. Passable enough for continued fest play, the film could eventually secure a broader audience via digital formats.

Korean foreign-exchange student Joon Chu (Charles Chu) arrives somewhere in small-town America with a super-sized suitcase, but without much of a clue about his adopted culture. He moves in with a requisitely odd host family, consisting of trashy, inappropriately-direct Mrs. Fefterg (Mercedes Ruehl) and her 20-something son Bud (Chris Marquette), a consummate loser with weird habits and weirder hobbies.

Uncharacteristically tall, Joon barely manages to fit in with the AP science and math classes he’s assigned to at the local high school, in an attempt to leverage his parents’ plans for his future career in structural engineering with some semblance of an American education. Instead of focusing on his studies, Joon falls in with the artsy students, led by photography instructor Mrs. Shoemaker (Melanie Lynskey), who encourages his latent creativity.

Joon gets definitively dragged out of his shell by woefully misunderstood neighborhood performance artist Butch Blossom (Ryan O’Nan), a whack-job with an anti-authority complex and obsessive art-punk tendencies. Joon and Blossom improbably bond over a shared respect for the artistic process and Joon’s struggle to differentiate himself from his smothering parents. Cute high school classmate Cherry Swade (Caitlin Stasey) provides some creative inspiration and romantic interest, but none of it’s enough to divert Joon from certain collision with his preordained life path.

Chu and Kelly’s belated coming of age comedy, co-written by Chu and O’Nan, appears to be a series of improv sketches that have been polished up a bit and then stretched to feature length. Repetitive, overly familiar plot developments alternate with a forced sense of quirkiness that borders on desperation. The unsophisticated plotting is unfortunate, since the principal castmembers are not without appeal, particularly Chu as the conflicted exchange student. His ability to reduce physical comedy to enhancing line readings with subtly amusing facial expressions repeatedly delivers. O’Nan has a far more outsized role, which he seizes with enthusiasm, but Blossom’s ambitions are frequently just too offbeat to be easily relatable.

In supporting roles, Lynskey, Ruehl, Cumming and Potts all play along good-naturedly enough, but like it or not they’re stuck with the woefully underpowered script. Kelly and Chu manage somewhat better behind the camera, translating Chu’s brand of awkward comedy into passably laughable scenes that nonetheless fail to achieve sufficient narrative cohesion. With so many liabilities, it’s unsurprising that the film never completely gets off the ground, it’s so bogged down with trying too hard to be funny, rather than delivering genuinely comedic situations.  

Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Feature Competition)
Production companies: TideRock Media, Character Brigade, Films 5 Productions, Soaring Flight Productions, Baked Industries
Cast: Charles Chu, Ryan O'Nan, Caitlin Stasey, Alan Cumming, Richard Kind, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Marquette, Annie Potts, Mercedes Ruehl
Directors: Charles Chu, Gavin Kelly
Screenwriters: Ryan O'Nan, Charles Chu
Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Caroline Connor, Thomas B. Fore, Ryan O'Nan
Executive Producers: Ruth Mutch, George A. Loucas, Jeff Rice, Anthony G. Loucas
Director of photography: Jez Theirry
Production designer: Simone Duff
Music: Rob Simonsen
Editors: John Wesley Whitton, Robert Brakey
Sales: Preferred Content
No rating, 104 minutes

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