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The Independent Critic

Andre Meadows, Morgan Benoit, Jeneta St. Clair, Myko Olivier, Erin Konstantine
Jose Montesinos
82 Mins.

 "Bert" May Be One Of The Best "Body Switch" Flicks Around 
As a general rule, I abhor the cinematic gimmick known as the "body swap" film.

You know the ones I'm talking about?

Freaky Friday. The Shaggy Dog. All of Me. 13 Going on 30. 18 Again. Switch. The Hot Chick.

It goes on and on and on. But, I must admit, that occasionally a filmmaker manages to get it right. Occasionally, there's a story that compels or performances that are just so amazing that the tired old theme feels fresh and entertaining.

Enter Bert.

isn't likely a film you've heard about - yet. If I'm being honest, it's probably a film you won't much hear about unless you find yourself a fan of the indie scene. With its serious themes and slightly off-balance pacing, Bert isn't likely to pack the multiplexes anytime soon.

That's a pity.

Bert is a mighty fine film.

Bert tells the story of, well, Bert (Andre Meadows), a socially awkward loner with a dead-end job and a rather pathetic stand-up comedy act. If he had a friend, he'd likely be the kind of friend you hoped would never call just because getting together with him would be painfully awkward. Despite being painfully aware she's out of his league, Bert becomes irresistibly attracted to Sara (Jeneta St. Clair) who is, in turn, irresistibly attracted to Steffen (Morgan Benoit).

I should probably mention that Steffen is gay.

Oh my.

Receiving his empowerment from an offbeat public access TV show and being further encouraged by a mysterious man (David Atwood) that he meets outside the comedy club, one simple action leads to Bert finding himself swapping bodies with Steffen, who is everything that Bert is not - handsome, talented and desired.

Refreshingly, Bert is not some half-assed comedy but instead a film that is both intelligent and emotionally resonant. While there are moments you can't help but chuckle, for the most part the characters in Bert are so richly developed and deeply felt that you become drawn into their stories, dilemmas and their wants and needs.

This is never more true than with Bert himself, played by Andre Meadows with a really weird but delightful mix of pathetic determination and asocial likability. Without ever turning him into a caricature, Meadows brings to life a young man whom you can't help but like even if you wouldn't necessarily want to spend much time with him. What's really refreshing is watching the shift that Meadows undergoes when he becomes Steffen, a shift that is far more subtle yet effective than one might actually expect. Again, rather than playing everything for laughs, Meadows delves deep down into the psyche' of both Bert and Steffen.

A good amount of credit for the extensive exploration of this dual psyche' must go to writer/director Jose Montesinos, whose dialogue here brings an air of authenticity to a mostly absurd situation. Montesinos uses this rather unique situation to explore very real life issues such as beauty and love and superficiality. Rather than faux dramatics and manufactured lessons, Montesinos does a beautiful job of manifesting the humanity in each of his characters. There is, in reality, no one ideal here - everyone in this picture is flawed, but it is in their flaws that they ultimately start to discover their truths.

In addition to the outstanding performance from Meadows, St. Clair works wonders with Sara's multi-layered complexities and turns the one character who could have been quite difficult to like into a sad yet sympathetic young woman. Morgan Benoit also does quite the nice job as Steffen, a man who is certainly aware of his good looks but who is portrayed quite early on with a rather extraordinary congeniality. As supporting players, both Myko Olivier and Erin Konstantine leave a lasting impression. Konstantine exudes a sort of Molly Shannon-like quality that almost instantly makes you wish she had considerably more screen time.

Brian Rodvien's original score for Bert is stellar, while virtually every aspect of the film's production transcends its status as a lower-budgeted indie flick. For more information on Bert, be sure to visit the film's website linked to in the credits. If you get a chance, this is a film you'll want to check out.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic