Film Review: Everything Strange and New

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PARK CITY -- With so many entries at Sundance aiming for a crowd-pleasing quirkiness, it's refreshing to find a film that adheres to its own unique sensibility. A story of disaffected, middle-aged men, "Everything Strange and New" may not be entirely successful, and it's definitely not for everyone, but there's nothing quite like it. The film should settle in nicely on arty cable outlets after making the festival circuit.

More like an art piece than a narrative film, "Everything Strange and New" is an ironic title as nothing is new or strange in Wayne's world. Wayne (Jerry McDaniel) is a carpenter doing house restoration in Oakland. Married with two kids, he marches from home to work and back again with quiet desperation.

What is remarkable is the style writer-director Frazer Bradshaw has come up with to communicate Wayne's mental state. Long takes -- almost like successive snapshots of roof tops, buses, the kitchen table and just walking on the street -- capture the stillness and monotony of Wayne's life. Every shot and color scheme seems to be precisely worked out.

Performances by McDaniel and Beth Lisick as his wife Beth are intentionally flat to cover their frustration. Wayne's narration tells us things weren't always this way, and that earlier in their marriage, before they were saddled with kids, they actually enjoyed life and each other's company. Now they can barely hold back their contempt.

Wayne's friends aren't any better off. His best friend, Leo (Rigo Chacon Jr.), is newly separated from his wife, and Wayne's boss, Manny (Luis Saguar), is fighting boredom by quietly shooting crack in his car. Strapped for cash, worried about his kids and unable to really communicate with his wife, Wayne knows there must be more to the American dream but doesn't have a clue how to go about finding it.

Trudging off to work in his orange overalls, Wayne has such low self-esteem he actually sees himself as a clown in his mind's eye. And life goes on at a very restrained, controlled pace. In Bradshaw's cerebral approach, the film is more interesting than compelling, and it's certainly not exciting.

When something big happens, followed by something even bigger, it seems almost out of place and contrived. But Bradshaw has so lowered expectations that almost anything out of the ordinary would feel like something earth-shattering.

McDaniel and Lisick manage to effectively keep the lid on their emotions, and Bradshaw gets the presence he needs to pull the whole thing off. Bradshaw, in fact, pretty much does it all, shooting and editing the film himself. Whatever this picture is, and it's not always easy to tell, there is no question that this is one man's vision.

Production company: Lucky Hat Entertainment
Cast: Jerry McDaniel, Beth Lisick, Luis Saguar, Rico Chacon Jr., Oliver
McDaniel, Finnegan McDaniel
Director: Frazer Bradshaw
Writer: Frazer Bradshaw
Producers: Laura Techera Francia, A.D. Liano
Executive producer: Stephen Bannatyne
Director of photography: Frazer Bradshaw
Music: Dan Plonsey, Kent Sparling
Production designer: Corey Weinstein
Editor: Frazer Bradshaw, Jesse Spencer
Sales: George M. Rush
No rating, 84 minutes