Surrogate Valentine: Film Review

Mild but amusing indie pits a struggling songwriter against a brash showbiz has-been.

Mumblecore goes on the road in Dave Boyle's slight but amiable buddy comedy.

AUSTIN -- (Emerging Visions) Mumblecore goes on the road in Dave Boyle’s Surrogate Valentine, a slight but amiable buddy comedy. The low-key spin on a familiar format lacks an easily exploited hook but might earn enough critical affection to support a small arthouse run.

Appealingly shot on black-and-white HDCAM, the pic casts San Francisco singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura as himself. Dumpy and reserved (and, if songs here are representative, not the world's most compelling tunesmith), Nakamura projects just enough wry self-possession to keep us watching a guy who doesn't seem sufficiently motivated to succeed in showbiz.

Goh's dry demeanor creates entertaining friction with this two-hander's other half -- C-list TV actor Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops), who goes on the road with him, hoping to soak up the troubadour lifestyle and learn guitar for an upcoming movie role.

Stoops overplays the part, not to be outdone by a script (credited to Boyle, Nakamura and Joel Clark) requiring Danny to ask his tutor impossibly bone-headed questions. Danny (who likes to learn lines by reading them as Christopher Walken) mimics Goh's every comment as if observing a living legend, overdoing it so badly he looks like Johnny Drama rehearsing for a Leonard Cohen biopic.

Following a script that feels half-improvised, the men slouch through a few West Coast gigs. Danny tries desperately to look cool, while Goh endures hit-or-miss romantic encounters but remains oblivious to his shot at connecting with his unrequited high-school flame.

It all feels pretty familiar, whether borrowing the behind-the-scenes non-glamour of Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation or a contrived "meet me at 7 a.m. if the answer's yes" plot point from the mainstream rom-com playbook.

But Surrogate Valentine also offers a certain mild slacker charm -- the cinematic equivalent of a maybe-promising musician who cleans up after himself when you let him sleep on your couch. Maybe on his next trip through town, he'll even bring the beer.

Venue: South By Southwest Film Festival, Emerging Visions
Production Companies: Tiger Industry Films, Brainwave Films
Cast: Goh Nakamura, Chadd Stoops, Lynn Chen, Mary Cavett, Joy Osmanski, Parry Shen
Director: Dave Boyle
Screenwriters: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark, Goh Nakamura
Producers: Duane Andersen, Dave Boyle
Executive producer: Gary Chou
Director of photography: Bill Otto
Editors: Duane Anerson, Dave Boyle, Michael Lerman
Sales: Michael Lerman
No rating, 73 minutes