Southlander (MVD Entertainment Group, NR)

In what seems like a time machine into the grungy 1990s, Southlander takes us on an eccentric ride through L.A., and Beck just so happens to be there in a shack…

Southlander

In what seems like a time machine into the grungy 1990s, Southlander takes us on an eccentric ride through L.A., and Beck just so happens to be there in a shack…

Originally released in 2001, Laura Prepon makes her feature film debut here, and while it was a milestone for the actress’ future career, the film itself doesn’t seem to quite reach the cult classic status it feels like it’s going for.

We begin, of course, with Chance (Dazed and Confused’s Rory Cochrane) assumedly trading sex with the “old fat lady” also known as “garage lady” (Mary Gillis) in exchange for the keyboard of his dreams. Sadly his sacrifice is made pointless when it’s stolen after his first band practice with it. The frantic hunt to recover the instrument pulls the film forward into run-ins with underground musicians and quirky characters with bunnies, shag carpets, and naked mannequins in their apartments.

Not only do legendary artists like Elliot Smith, Hank Williams III, Billy Higgins, and Beck all show up on this adventure of Chance’s, but also they all play important roles in helping him on the journey to find his keyboard. I don’t think the film would feel as authentic or watchable without them either; they made essential contributions to the final product of the film, from scoring it, acting in it, all the way to shooting Elliot Smith’s hands playing the keyboard towards the ending when Snow Bunny is dancing.

Director Steve Hanft describes the making of the film in detail in the Diary of a Desperate Musician commentary. He often mentions making the film as a collaboration of many people, even having their director of photography essentially direct one scene and actors improvise in other scenes. While these tactics can prove successful under the right circumstances, perhaps it’s why this film doesn’t always flow very cohesively. I found myself comparing it often to Clerks, perhaps because of its low-budget visual style and the campy dialogue. Yet with Clerks (despite it being a very different story), Kevin Smith is assured in his directing: he’s running the show while collaborating with all of his friends and the people who know him well. Southlander has the teamwork but needs that comfortable, assured direction and it doesn’t ever really land in that territory.

Despite its pitfalls, the film has a voice that echoes into modern buddy/marijuana comedies—there is something about it that holds your attention and consistently allows for a few laughs. Furthermore, for anyone interested in seeing their favorite musicians cross over to the screen, it can feel exhilarating. Is it the most intuitive, well fleshed out plot? Eh…probably not. Is it still a fun watch? Absolutely. | Kristen Weber

Southlander is distributed on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group, with a street date of June 14.

 

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