The GoodTimesKid (Director: Azazel Jacobs): Benten Films‘ latest release is the second film of Azazel Jacobs, whose most recent film Momma’s Man received acclaim when it played the festival circuit in 2008. Though I haven’t yet seen Momma’s Man, I’m glad that its notices have sparked renewed interest in Jacobs’ earlier films.
There is no indication exactly who the “GoodTimesKid” is, nor why the moniker is scrunched together without spaces, but the film itself doesn’t seem to spend much time worrying about stuff like that. Instead, we find ourselves in the company of two men (both named Rodolfo Cano) and a woman, the girlfriend of one who over the course of one day and night seemingly migrates to the other. The fact that the amount of dialogue is minimal doesn’t seem to get in the way of the story. In fact, the minimalism and simplicity leave a lasting impression.
Rodolfo I, as played by director Jacobs, is an angry and self-destructive man who decides to enlist in the army to get away from his girlfriend (Sara Diaz, looking at times uncannily like PJ Harvey). But somehow his enlistment notice goes instead to Rodolfo II (co-writer Gerardo Naranjo), a mellow guy living on a sailboat. When both show up at the recruiting office, a series of events is set in motion which will result in Diaz spending the night on Rodolfo II’s sailboat and preparing to leave Rodolfo I. But this is not a typical love triangle, or a romantic comedy. All three of the characters seem sad and unsatisfied with their lives. We know nothing of their families or jobs, but they seem of little importance. In fact, the film begins on the morning of Rodolfo I’s birthday, and he ends up being pummelled by rednecks in a bar rather than spending time with his girlfriend and friends at a birthday party she’s planned for him.
Despite the presence of such rootless and, in Rodolfo I’s case, self-destructive characters, the melancholy is matched by a certain light-heartedness. Perhaps it’s because of the scarcity of dialogue, allowing us lingering looks at the actors’ faces. Or maybe it’s the laughably mussed hair on the two Rodolfos. Or for that matter the gangly awkwardness of Diaz. All three also play physical comedy bits which owe a huge debt to the work of Charlie Chaplin. In any case, we end up caring very much about these people and their sometimes inarticulate efforts to connect with each other. Even a ridiculously lame “fight scene” between the two Rodolfos ends with them falling into step with each other as they walk down a road. The final scene is memorable in its audacity. My favourite Gang of Four track unwinds its full length on the turntable as we survey the characters one last time. Is the song an elegy, an apology, or something else? Does it promise action, or just more noise? It’s a pretty stunning finish.
The film’s miniscule budget (around $10,000, according to the entertaining director’s commentary) hardly shows, except in one poorly-lit night shot on the beach. In all ways, the filmmaking is accomplished and confident, and the actors’ comfort with each other is evident. I also liked that the film was only as long as it needed to be, running a brisk 77 minutes. This may be because, according to the commentary, the film was shot on stolen “short ends” of film, and they only had about 4.5 hours of negative in total. It also affected the length of certain shots, and the ability to shoot multiple takes, but honestly, if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t see anything in the finished film that didn’t look purposeful and necessary.
Based on this tiny gem, which he and a small group of friends and volunteers shot in two weeks, I’m very excited to catch up with Azazel Jacobs’ Momma’s Man and to see where he goes next.