'Echo Park': LAFF Review

Echo Park Tony Okungbowa Poster Art - P 2014

Echo Park Tony Okungbowa Poster Art - P 2014

Mild midlife crises lack sufficient originality and urgency to drive an engaging plot.

Mamie Gummer and Anthony Okungbowa co-star in Amanda Marsalis’ first-time feature.

An overexposed corner of Los Angeles gets renewed attention in Echo Park, an unimaginative drama that never quite gains momentum. Festivals seeking to showcase L.A.’s more bohemian side may take notice, although the film’s modest ambitions and indifferent style primarily suggest small-screen potential.

Fleeing a suddenly compromised relationship with her wealthy fiance, Simon (Gale Harold), and a well-appointed Beverly Hills home, fashion accessory designer Sophie (Mamie Gummer) heads, metaphorically, for the hills of Echo Park, settling into a rental unit to reassess Simon’s marriage potential. In need of furnishings for her minimalist new place, she answers an ad about a couch for sale and meets Alex (Anthony Okungbowa), an expat Brit music supervisor and frustrated composer preparing to sell his cozy hillside home and return to London.

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Both dismiss an initial spark at their first meeting, after Sophie decides to buy the couch, but when Alex and his best-bud neighbor Mateo (Maurice Compte) deliver it to her place and invite her for a pickup soccer foursome along with Mateo’s son Elias (Ricky Rico), she agrees to meet them down in Echo Park. Things with Alex move from casual hanging out to actual dating and sleepovers, but with the understanding that the arrangement is strictly temporary. Alex has his mind set on his relocation plans and Sophie is still stuck on Simon, who’s waging a patient campaign to win her back, with the approval and support of Sophie’s pushy mother, Julia (Helen Slater), who has a low opinion of Sophie's new love interest, as well as any neighborhood east of mid-city. 

Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s featherweight script primarily relies on the interactions of the two lead actors to generate interest, since the underdeveloped plot doesn’t have much to offer in terms of innovative storytelling. The relationship between Sophie and Alex lacks distinction and conflict however — aside from race, they’re actually quite alike: artsy, educated, middle-class urbanites with drastically similar worldviews and an enthusiasm for pricey real estate. Nor is their relationship so fated that it can be seriously jeopardized by shifting emotions and events.

Fashion photographer Amanda Marsalis’ directorial style is similarly undistinguished, making the film’s reliance on practical locations appear more like low-budget economizing than a genuine attempt to cast the neighborhood as a supplementary character in the film. Fortunately, Gummer and Okungbowa display innate charm that smoothly blends in their frequently shared scenes. Limited by the script’s scope, however, they can’t break free of the characters’ smug comfort zone, dissipating whatever mildly confrontational tension arises.


Production company: Turntable Studios

Cast: Mamie Gummer, Anthony Okungbowa, Maurice Compte, Ricky Rico, Gale Harold, Helen Slater

Director: Amanda Marsalis

Screenwriter: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta

Producers: Anthony Okungbowa, Eric Hayes

Executive producers: Jacqueline Corbelli, Mark Modzelewski, Debi Shaw, Jay Shaw

Director of photography:Jason McCormick

Production designer: Sonja Kroop

Costume designer: Zoe Buck

Editors: Nina Lucia, Greg O'Bryant

Music: Christopher H. Knight

No rating, 88 minutes