STARRING Googy Gress, Gigi Rice, Lee Arenberg, Daniel Baldwin, Clint Howard, WIllie Garson, Christian Clemenson, Tommy Kijas, Eileen Galindo, Orson Bean WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Christopher Hutson, Chris Kazmier MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 105 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Independent
"Ashley's Ashes" Review
Bob Tuttle (Googy Gress) is in a rut. He's a depressed and downtrodden middle-aged man, at least until an unexpected inheritance comes his way and he starts to find himself once again.
An official selection of the 2010 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Ashley's Ashes is a funny yet touching story of how Bob learns to enjoy life again after he inherits an urn of ashes from an unknown person and then embarks on a journey through the person's life and friends.
The film stars Googy Gress, a longtime Hollywood character in his first feature film leading role. Gress also shares a producing credit for the film, having been involved in the project since early in the script writing process, and Gress is surrounded by longtime friends and Hollywood peers such as Willie Garson, Christian Clemenson, Clint Howard, Daniel Baldwin, Craig Sheffer and even his wife, actress Clarinda Ross.
It's clear from the chemistry of this fine ensemble cast that all involved here are passionate about the low-budget indie project and are clearly having a good time working together.
Ashley's Ashes is a bit edgier of a film than one usually catches at the life-affirming, inspirationally focused Heartland Film Festival, a still relatively unknown film festival living in the shadows of Sundance, Tribeca and countless others despite offering the largest prize money in any festival. Period. Ashley's Ashes is essentially a comedy, yet the moments of drama are heartfelt and beautifully captured by Gress's wonderful ability to project both the weariness of arriving at middle-age decidedly unsatisfied yet not so weary as to pass up the opportunity to still give life a go. Gress's performance here should be a clear sign to Hollywood that Gress still has quite a bit to offer a Hollywood machine too often geared towards the next pretty face or buffed up body.
Because Gress is surrounded largely by character actors, Ashley's Ashes is filled to the brim with characters actors brought vividly to life and whose scenes with Gress exude a warmth and humor not often captured onscreen these days. Feedback to the film's Heartland appearance has, unfortunately, been a tad mixed as Heartland's reputation for presenting the safer side of cinema sadly assured that there would be those in the audience who wouldn't quite "get it," a reality that has unfolded in post-screening comments that have ranged from incredible raves to scathing opinions of both the film and Heartland.
It's unfortunate, really, because Ashley's Ashes is a wonderful example of independent filmmaking and the true value of our lesser known American actors who don't always get top billing or the big paydays. Yet, these are the actors who make it work for the "stars" and it's awesome to see several regular standouts have a true opportunity to shine here.
Christian Clemenson, Willie Garson, Orson Bean and Clint Howard shine most brightly among the supporting players. Tech credits are solid across the board given the film's financial constraints, with kudos especially going to D.P. Bruce Ready.
While Heartland advertises in its program that Ashley's Ashes was having its world premiere at the festival, the truth is the film has been on its festival run for awhile and has captured awards at Landlocked Film Festival, The Accolade Film Festival, Park City Film & Music Festival, The Indie Fest Film Festival, Manhattan Film Festival, Canadian International Film Festival, Las Vegas International Film Festival and in the Los Angeles Film Awards.
For more information on Ashley's Ashes, check out the film's website. As an added bonus, check out my feature interview with the film's star, Googy Gress!