When embarking on a mythic quest, it’s best to take the bus.
After the recent catastrophe that was the micro-budget “We Make Movies” (read review here), here’s an example of what a talented filmmaking team can achieve on a minuscule budget. Liz Graham and Matt Jacobs’ “From Hollywood to Rose,” a poignant little ode to L.A. and its outcasts, is far from perfect, but, unlike the aforementioned sorry excuse for a film, it’s honest, has a style of its own and an original story to tell, while its robust lead performance carries us through the rougher patches. I thoroughly enjoyed it, flaws and all.
An aging woman in a cheap wedding gown (Eve Annenberg) – never named – waits for the bus at night in Hollywood. Her “mythic quest”: get to Venice. On her journey, she encounters transgender ladies, a compassionate businessman who believes he’s a reptile, a bus driver having a mental breakdown – and two arguing film geeks (Maxx Maulion and Brad Herman), who proceed to befriend her. Together, they eat burritos, ride a skateboard and divulge intimate secrets. Her background is revealed, as is theirs… And then the film boldly separates them in its last third, putting her back on another bus to complete the journey.
The woman rarely talks at first, but gradually starts to open up. Mascara runs down her face. She wears thick-rimmed party glasses and a giant white bow. She tends to get “panicky” and her “brain freezes up.” She waxes poetic about “Blade Runner” (“I used to feel sorry for the replicant”) and fried food (“I know it’s bad but I eat it anyway”). She’s afraid to swim in the ocean because she’s scared of sharks. She also loves her fish lamp and knows surprisingly a lot about Bruce Lee’s signature moves.
Basked in shadows, lovable oddballs, and half-broken neon signs, the film is quintessentially “L.A.”: a melting pot of crazy, wonderful, dangerous and quirky people, where no one will bat an eye at a disheveled-looking lady in a gown strolling down a beach. The film functions as a somewhat demented tour guide through the city’s nightlife, where a surprise lurks around every corner, and a myriad of deep issues oozes through the glossy exterior.
That said, the heightened reality of the film does get overbearing. Liz and Matt lack the grasp of, say, Jim Jarmusch, who gets away with outlandish characters and non-sequitur lines. “FHTR”’s dialogue could have been a bit sharper – especially the supposedly “witty” exchanges that just hang there, such as, “you look like a retarded 12-year-old” or “remain dauntless in your pursuit.” The film geeks’ continuous debates over Christopher Nolan, “Willow,” and “X-Men” turn tedious. Some of the acting is (understandably) amateurish.
The film is at its best when it’s at its weirdest, like when the woman encounters a butch, tattooed haute couture connoisseur, who talks about Betsy Johnson and Alexander McQueen, in-between… choking her. That sequence is borderline-perfect in its hilarity, darkness, weirdness. If only the film sustained that perfect pitch throughout its duration, it would have been something really special.
Major points for trying. There’s a lot of potential on display here. I can’t wait to see what Liz and Matt do next; with a slightly bigger budget and a tighter focus, it could end up Magnifique.
“From Hollywood To Rose” opens in Los Angeles Friday, June 16th