Saturday, November 6, 2010

Works in Progress (2010)

Should I see it?

Short Review: A film made by a first-time director, rookie writer, novice crew and newbie actors that is better than many films I've seen by seasoned pros.

PhotobucketJohn (Greg Brostrom) and Patrick (Ben Jeffrey), two young artists, move to the city to begin their careers.  It isn't long before their work gets the attention of a seedy art dealer who talks them into compromising their vision for the sake of sales.  As his star begins to rise, John meets Abbey (Christina Blodgett) at one of his showings and the two begin dating.  Patrick does some research and finds Abbey’s old blog, and John uses her posts to discover her interests.  He proceeds to use this information to woo Abbey by pretending to be the kind of man she has always dreamed of dating.  How long can John keep the professional and private charades going?

Works in Progress is the first film by Stephen Pruitt; he works from a script written mostly by his wife, Mary Pruitt.  Usually a director’s first film is completed when they are in their early twenties, if not earlier.  Pruitt, in his fifties, has come to filmmaking later in life. Pruitt’s age in apparent in his production—and I do not mean that in a bad way.  This is a romantic comedy.  A younger filmmaker would invariably have littered their story with cursing and loose sexual attitudes.  Pruitt approaches his story with more maturity.  Pruitt presents John and Patrick as young but kind and thoughtful.  They are moral young men, not thoughtless, rutting dogs looking for a score, which has become a template too commonly used. 

For being a freshman director, Stephen Pruitt shows natural talent.   While he makes the occasional odd choice for camera placement and allows his script to devolve toward final resolution with the villain (you will feel the false ending when you hit it), overall his work is impressive.  The film is remarkably clean and sharp-looking for a shoestring, independent film.  Considering how little the film cost ($300,000), the fact that it looks so dang pretty is amazing.  As a director, Pruitt is unobtrusive following his montage opening.  He smartly approaches his production with a very conventional, straight-forward style, and allows his actors to do the heavy lifting. 

The cast has done the most notable work, in my opinion, and deserve a great deal of attention.  The relationship between the leads, John and Patrick, is the biggest strength of the film.  The duo constantly bicker and mock one another, yet this back and forth has an authentic feel to it and provides an endearing center to the production. 

As this film gets more attention (and it will), it is very likely that Ben Jeffrey will receive a good deal of praise for his work.  Jeffrey is the strongest player in the film.  He nails the role of Patrick with great timing and delivery.  He is notable because he takes what should be a simply comedic slob character and infuses him with a lively and attractive personality.  When serious moments occur, Jeffrey is able to put aside the mischievous chum routine and deliver believable moments.  These are not easy transitions for young actors to make and he reveals a strong talent. 

Ben Jeffrey is not the only notable cast member.  Greg Brostrom is a very stable lead and offers a great deal for the other actors to work with—he is a strong straight-man. 

Opposite Brostrom is Christina Blodgett as Abbey.  At first her performance is a little shaky.  This isn’t necessarily her fault as Abbey’s introduction is rather posed and Blodgett is forced to navigate though some unnatural dialogue.  She, too often, is not given much to work with beyond her character’s desire for a man.  Blodgett does make Abbey appealing and, when given good dialogue, quickly brings her to life. 

The downsides to the film are its lack of attention to the art dealer subplot, which is what bites the production’s ending.  The conflict arc is not heavy enough, and its resolution comes across flat.  There are also moments of small budget, first-time independent filmmaking that the audience will need to look past—common for this type of film and certainly does not get in the way.  The negatives are far outweighed by the positives, however, and should not keep you from seeing the production.

Relevant Magazine published an excerpt from my book, You Are What You See: Watching Films Through a Christian Lens (yes, I am self-promoting in a review, but indulge me, I have a point).  In the article, I call for Christians to stop making “Christian film” and focus on simply being Christian artists.  Christians do not need to cite Scripture and shoehorn a conversion scene into every movie they make.  A Christian bricklayer does not construct “Christian walls”; he applies the talents provided to him by the Lord.  Similarly, a Christian artist should focus on their work and create their art free of labels and conventions.  With Works in Progress, Pruitt provides a great example of exactly what I have been calling for.  This is not a “Christian film” but rather a film made by a filmmaker who is a Christian.  His faith informs his art instead of dictating it.  Christian filmmakers should follow his lead and learn the difference.

This is a very enjoyable, charming film, and I highly recommend it.

Click here to buy your copy of
You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

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