A New Year’s Eve breakup can be brutal. Just when you’re ready to begin anew, a piece of your heart walks out on you. It just might be enough to put you in the back of a cop car.
Enter Bill, a man who enlists his brother and best friend on a trip to win back the one that got away, but unexpectedly finds romance with a waitress he meets.
Craig Elrod’s Mustang Island, released by Pepper Island Films, is a work with a visual palate that hearkens to the Kevin Smith-defined indie days of the late 20th century. It blends black and white processing with scenes including vintage pickup trucks, ancient motels, retro diners and throwback grocery stores.
As an expansion of an earlier short the production team created called Molly, which was presented in over 40 festivals that include SXSW, LA Film Festival and Cannes, the film uses storytelling to highlight a type of masculinity that doesn’t enshrine toxicity. Instead of hormone and alcohol-fueled wingmen there are “sugar buddies.” There is also a tight band of men who experience emotion as they vacation together and pursue relationships in a beach town during its slow season.
Elrod, Writer/DP Nathan Smith and Producer/Editor Michael Bartnett comprise a three-pronged team that make a noteworthy feature-length film that works well on its visual, narrative and production levels — which is an even more crucial observation when considering it as a “low-budget” production.
As with many productions that do not rely heavily on an array of flashy effects, but still provide an excellent sense of cinematography, casting choices and dialogue are crucial. Macon Blair and Lee Eddy work together as well in this film as they do in most other circumstances.
This film’s slower pacing allows for the delivery of emotionality that transcends simple comedic timing or tragic circumstances. It’s a contemplative film, but one that is not painstakingly so, in the way that Wes Anderson’s films tend to be when it comes to emotional quality and the pain and beauty that is inherent to human relationships.
This is evidenced by a striking scene set in a nightclub, where the group of vacationers and two town dwellers sit and drink. The situation is slightly awkward. The “sugar buddy” comments, “We used to date . . . each other.” No one flinches in public. It’s amazing how everyone in this sleepy beach town manages to get along for the sake of getting along, even when there’s great pain involved. That is until jealousy surfaces and someone drinks a makeshift-mimosa dangling legs from a pier or sits at a bar alone.
For those that will enjoy a fresh take on the “buddy comedy” genre, this film won’t disappoint. One might even say it’s a perfect fit in the newer classification of “bromantic comedy,” provided the viewer is in the mood for a more realistic work that provides fewer absurdist scenarios. It might actually be more of a “bromantic dramadey” if one were to split hairs.
It’s a decided standout among many films worth checking out at DIFF this year and is distinctly Texan in its overall composition. It premieres at the festival on Saturday, April 1.