Ryan Ross’s WHEELER is a drama under the guise of being a documentary about the title character, who is an aspiring singer/songwriter from the small country town of Kaufman, Texas, making a belated journey to Nashville to attempt his lifelong dream of being a country music artist. Under prosthetic make up, Stephen Dorff plays the humble, but talented Wheeler and blurs the reality of the film by interacting with locals and performing his songs as the character. Music City legends and vets (including Kris Kristofferson) appear in character, as Wheeler chases his dream and looks to catch lightning in a bottle in a whirlwind shot at the top.
WHEELER is somewhat of an experiment as Dorff goes undercover so to speak as the character Wheeler and the crew shooting the film is passed off to locals as a documentary crew following his character around on this adventure. And, yes, the cynical could make the attempt to pass this off as a vanity project with Dorff as the too-good-to-be-true authentic talent that country music maybe hungers for now days that pop has insinuated itself to a large extent with its most popular artists. But the fact of the matter is that Dorff thwarts much of that because he gives a truly committed and “real” performance as the character, successfully losing himself under the prosthetics and trappings of the aspiring singer/songwriter. And frankly, the songs are good.
Interestingly enough, because the film presents itself as a documentary, it doesn’t put stress on itself to create a false crisis to overcome in a traditional three-act structure. By not doing that, it aids in the attempt to give the proceedings the veneer of a documentary, and where that might offer the potential for it to be dull or to drone on with no point, the film offers an ending that is remains true and satisfying to the lightning in a bottle conceit it plays with throughout. Again, possibly not enough for the hardcore cynic, but for the country music-loving fan and likely for anyone looking for some unvarnished humanity onscreen, Wheeler would be someone you would not spending some time with as you make your VOD selection one night.