'Lost Holiday': Film Review

Courtesy of Slamdance FIlm Festival
Struggles to make its point.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as a bored grad student who randomly decides to investigate the disappearance of a missing socialite in Michael and Thomas Matthews’ low-key comedy, which premiered at Slamdance.

A comedic mystery shot on 16mm in an improvisational mumblecore style, Michael and Thomas Matthews’ debut feature Lost Holiday gives the impression of an in-joke that never quite lands. Low-budget production values and shaky plotting are offset by quirkily amusing performances, yielding an understated feature most likely to appeal to indie-oriented streamers and offbeat fests. 

Returning home from New York to the Washington, D.C., area for the holiday break along with best bud Henry (Thomas Matthews), grad student Margaret (Kate Lyn Sheil) quickly gets reacquainted with the paralyzing boredom that made her happily head north in the first place. After an unpleasant Christmas party encounter with her ex-boyfriend Mark (William Jackson Harper), whose new girlfriend is now pregnant less than six months after he split with Margaret, she decides the best remedy for the situation is more booze and maybe something stronger. So begins a lost weekend, as Margaret and Henry, along with sidekick Sam (Keith Poulson), who’s still stuck living at home with his wealthy parents, unceremoniously bail on the party.

As the three head out into the dark of a December night, the limitations of the filmmakers’ choice of 16mm become apparent, as smudgy low-light imagery flickers across the screen. This preference may be intended as a signifier that associates them with a previous generation of indie auteurs, or it could just be a practical solution to low-budget production constraints. Either way, it’s a clear aesthetic statement that infrequently pays off, except perhaps for those still nostalgic for this classic format.

Undeterred by sleet and rain, the trio pay a visit to Sam’s heavily muscled Brazilian drug dealer, who goes by the name of Russian (Tone Tank), eagerly dropping a few tabs of acid and snorting some lines. The increasingly unhinged evening ends with Maggie sleeping over with the charismatic entrepreneur, who really just wants to be a porn star, as evidenced by the video clip he proudly shares, which co-stars his girlfriend Amber (Ismenia Mendes).

Brutally hung over the next day, Margaret and Henry idle away the afternoon day-drinking at a local bar, where they catch a TV report detailing the disappearance of twenty-ish Amber Jones, the daughter of a wealthy local restaurateur. Recalling Russian’s homemade porn video, Maggie becomes convinced that he represents a link to the missing girl and persuades Henry that they should start a private investigation in their abundant free time. Seeing as they’re frequently drunk or high, or both, their motives seem questionable and their methods are definitely unorthodox, a combination certain to lead in unexpected directions.

Watching bored rich kids get themselves into trouble with some very rough characters may offer some passing appeal, but the film’s crime-solving premise is really just a diversion from the lingering issues surrounding Margaret’s tragically unresolved romance. Her unfinished business with Mark gets treated so tenuously, however, depicted primarily in brief flashbacks or haltingly awkward text messages and phone conversations, that it’s difficult to determine the significance of the stakes involved for either one of them.

After spending so much time allowing Margaret to avoid the actual issues confronting her by getting wasted and making up reasons to go on misguided adventures, the filmmakers inadvertently diminish the relevance of the central plot. In the meantime, their shaggy-dog story involving the amateur sleuths pursuing Amber’s disappearance has some mild comedic value, but the rather arbitrarily related incidents don’t really constitute much of a mystery.

Sheil, who has delivered some notable performances in a slew of indie features and with appearances on House of Cards and other series, appears to be mostly coasting here, deploying her natural charm to gently amusing effect, but never really digging deeply into Margaret’s romantic trauma. Co-director Thomas Matthews doesn’t add much substance to his slim acting resumé in the role of Henry, conveying little beyond his unspoken, but unexplained, devotion to Margaret. Randomly, Emily Mortimer voices an NPR newscaster on Henry’s beat-up VW car radio during the pair’s misdirected wanderings around the DC area.

Production company: Matthews Brothers
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Thomas Matthews, Keith Poulson, William Jackson Harper, Ismenia Mendes, Emily Mortimer, Tone Tank, Joshua Leonard, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Directors-writers: Michael Matthews, Thomas Matthews
Producers: Michael Matthews, Thomas Matthews
Executive producer: Steven J. Berger
Director of photography: Donavan Sell
Production designer: Paige Mitchell
Costume designers: Julia Vincenza Whalen, Julie Bent
Editor: Katie Ennis
Music: James Iha
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival (Narrative Feature Film Competition)
Sales: Visit Films

75 minutes