'States': Film Review
Zach Gayne's road movie scatters random hitchhikers and freeloaders across the Southwest.
If someone who strongly disliked Richard Linklater's Slacker described the film to a novice filmmaker, and that person decided to make his own movie based solely on that negative description, the result might be something like States, Zach Gayne's meandering, often insufferable road trip through the American Southwest. Setting handfuls of charmlessly quirky twenty-something characters off on individual half-assed pilgrimages, the movie occasionally displays evidence that it intended to link the stories up in some meaningful or at least resonant way. But this is neither La Ronde nor Linklater's classic riff on it; it's a tangle of roads to nowhere, and, as a character sings in the final scene's karaoke bar, the film has no regrets about dragging us along for the ride.
The pic opens with its least likable character, an unnamed Ugly American (Michael Wieck), who wakes up from a blackout drunk in a Mexican border town and asks the first local he meets to smuggle him back to America. Then, having somehow convinced the man to do it (and to not only get him across the border, but go hundreds of miles further to Dallas), he flees without giving the man the money he'd promised. Later, Gayne will explicitly turn this man into a Linklater stand-in, by having him doze off against the window of a bus and awaken at an Austin Greyhound station; it's one of the least flattering homages in film history.
Soon we meet a woman (played with empty-headed naivete by Rachel Cederberg) who skips through Marfa, Texas, and Roswell, New Mexico, hoping to commune with aliens. She finds Area 51 kitsch instead. Elsewhere, women have more earthbound agendas: In Los Angeles, a self-involved actress (Alexandra Essoe) takes advantage of the aspiring screenwriter (Robbie Bruens) unlucky enough to be her Uber driver; in Las Vegas, a poet (Jeremy O. Harris) has his wishy-washy "I respect all beliefs" ideals tested by a pair of women (Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green) who look like they're recruiting for a Jesus cult.
The latter plotline has more potential than most here, but moments in which its unsettling dynamics seem pointed toward something memorable are invariably spoiled by an ill-timed response or godawful bit of dialogue. ("We can drown you in our fuck sauce," the women coo to the man who's already told them he's gay.)
Viewers who love the landscape of the Southwest may quickly come to resent Gayne for staging such inane conversations against this awesome backdrop; clumsy direction and inept sound recording/editing add to the pic's woes. Midway through, as if worried his talky but inarticulate, seemingly improvised film will bore us, Gayne throws in some out-of-nowhere action, including a random assassination. Why kill a stranger, when there are so many characters here we're ready to be done with?
Cast: Michael Wieck, Rachel Cederberg, Robbie Bruens, Alexandra Essoe, Jeremy O. Harris, Jasmin Kaset, Makenzie Green
Director-screenwriter-director of photography-editor: Zach Gayne
Executive producer: David Hayman