'Safelight': Film Review

Safelight Still - H 2015
Courtesy of ARC Entertainment

Safelight Still - H 2015

Nary a single dramatic cliche is missed

Evan Peters and Juno Temple star in this '70s-set drama about the relationship between a sensitive teenager and a young prostitute.

Tony Aloupis' feature debut is set in the late 1970s, and it would have seemed a lot more original if it had actually been made then. Featuring a compendium of indie drama tropes — the sensitive disabled teen, the hooker with a heart of gold, the abusive pimp, the dying father, etc.— Safelight squanders the efforts of a talented cast who are unable to lift the material beyond its cliches.

Evan Peters, who moved a lot faster as Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past, plays Charlie, a high school senior caring for his seriously ill, loving father (Jason Beghe) while working at a truck stop gas station in a desolate California desert town. There he comes into frequent contact with Vickie (Juno Temple, playing a sweeter version of her familiar white trash character), an 18-year-old runaway sporting Lolita-style heart-shaped sunglasses who plies her trade under the watchful eyes of her frequently shirtless boyfriend/pimp Skid (Kevin Alejandro).

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Charlie, who walks with a pronounced limp, rushes to Vickie's defense during one of Skid's violent tirades, a favor she later returns by pulling a gun on a trio of classmates bullying him. (And true to Chekhov's dictum, you can be sure that the gun is dutifully fired by the end of the film.)

The pair bond while taking a series of road trips during which Charlie, using a camera inherited from his older brother who died in Vietnam (yes, really) shoots picturesque black & white photos of the region's many lighthouses (hence the title). Eventually there's an awkward romantic encounter in which Vickie, resorting to her professional skills, immediately attempts oral sex on the flustered young man who quickly discourages her.

Naturally, their growing relationship only fuels Skid's ire, leading to a violent final encounter which, judging by the happy ending, seems to have no dramatic consequences whatsoever.

The film is effective not so much for the central relationship, which never seems organically developed, but rather for the tenderly quiet scenes between Charlie and both his supportive father and his free-spirited, honky-tonk loving boss (Christine Lahti), who serves as a surrogate mother.

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The scenes involving Vickie's awkward interactions with her mother and sisters (one played by Ariel Winter of Modern Family) only serve to further impede the already sluggish pace.  

Peters and Temple never display any discernible romantic chemistry, and Alejandro wildly overplays as the twitchy psycho. The best performances are delivered by the reliable pros Beghe and Lahti, who manage to find some grace notes in their stereotypical characters.

Production: Aloupis Productions, Hacienda Film Co.
Cast: Evan Peters, Juno Temple, Kevin Alejandro, Christine Lahti, Jason Beghe, Ariel Winter, Will Peltz
Director/screenwriter: Tony Aloupis
Producers: Tony Aloupis, Bernie Gewissler, Cory Neal
Executive producers: Joe Krieg, Andrew Mysko
Director of photography: Gavin Kelly
Production designer: Tom Lisowski
Editor: Ed Marx
Costume designer: Victor A. Sandoval
Composer: Joel P. West
Casting: Andy Henry, Nancy Naylor

Rated R, 83 minutes