Why is it that among family, lovers and close friends, people allow themselves to be at their best and at their worst?
Madstone Theaters in Ann Arbor answers that question with “Film Forward,” a series dedicated to giving the indie underdogs a chance to be seen by the people who inspire them. The series runs until June 11 and Madstone kicks it off with two films, showing now through May 14, that cock a couple different angles across the web of human relations, yet still hold true to very personal visions.
Seven and a Match, writer-director Derek Simonds’ first feature film, could easily be called The Big Chill: The Next Generation. Three or so years after their college days, a group of friends reunite at the old hangout, but with friends like these, who needs reunions? After a few shots, it doesn’t take long before they churn up the ugly and unresolved, open old cans of worms and regress to previous insecurities and snuggle buddies.
Simonds manages to gather together a collection of people with characteristics that, every once in a while, tap into classic group-dynamic peculiarities — such as Whit (who comes to life through a very in-tune portrayal by The Blair Witch Project’s Heather Donahue) — she’s crass and honest to a fault and sour when everyone else is happy. And Ellie (sincerely played by Tina Holmes) is nerdy, neurotic and harboring an “I’ll never be good enough” chip on her shoulder underneath her thrift-store attire. But Simonds stops too short when developing characters like Sid (Eion Bailey), the opportunist actor asking everyone for spare cash. His transparency is a weak spot that undermines the whole crew.
Like Seven, Side Streets is a group purging, but on a much broader scale. Co-written with his playwright wife, Lynn Nottage, director Tony Gerber’s first feature is an interweaving of diverse desires (and cultures) of people living in the five boroughs of NYC. Spliced together, they end up forming the psyche of a city, portraying Manhattan and its outskirts as a microcosm of the world held together by a glue of motives, all valid in the minds they emerge from. The film feeds on dreams just out of reach, husband-wife, love-power-sanity struggles and the need for recognition in the eyes of parents, the rest of the world and the eyes looking back from the mirror.
Showing exclusively thru May 14 at Madstone Theaters (Briarwood Mall, 462 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor). Call 734-994-1000.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.