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The Independent Critic

Julia Porter Howe, Mark Robert Ryan, Deirdre Herlihy, Richard Buonagurio
Ryan Andrew Balas
Julia Porter Howe, Mark Robert Ryan, Deirdre Herlihy, Richard Buonagurio, Ryan Andrew Balas
80 Mins.
One Way or Another Productions

 "Carter" Review 
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Haven't we all made really insane promises?

It may be a product of immaturity or youthful disenfranchisement or any number of other things that seem to go through our brains during our young adult years, but it seems practically impossible to escape the early to mid-20's without at least one genuinely questionable decision.

In three days, Jebediah Sminch (Mark Robert Ryan) is going to kill himself. He's never been happier.

Such is the premise for "Carter," the latest flick from the folks at One Way or Another Productions and co-writer/director Ryan Andrew Balas. Referring to the film as an "experimental narrative," Balas and his co-writers and co-stars have constructed a film that transcends the traditional boundaries of cinema by allowing the characters to live outside the constraints of plot structure, logical storyline and, throughout much of the film, even the confines of the spoken word.

At the age of 17, Sminch made a sacred promise that if he was not married by the time he reached his 23rd birthday  he would end his life before he reached his 25th year.

Sminch's 25th year is a mere three days away.

Yet, as one might expect, there is a catch.

Carter (Julia Porter Howe).

You see, between his 23rd and 25th birthdays something unexpected has happened to Jebediah. He's become happy.

Carter is the love of his life, an attractive singer-songwriter who equally adores him. Still, a promise is a promise and, despite his happiness, Jedediah is determined to carry through on his vow.

Based upon Balas' play "Life in Rewind," "Carter" honestly and authentically explores the last few days of Jebediah and does so without ever falling into any of the hyped up Hollywood psychodrama traps that so often plague films with such a theme.

"Carter" starts off with one of 2009's better opening sequences, several moments in which the camera follows Carter as she awakens and goes about a largely silent, yet communicative morning routine that speaks volumes about who she is. As if to contrast, "Carter" then jarringly moves over to an office setting where Jebediah and his supervisor (Ryan Andrew Balas) engage in a conversation of a graphic sexual nature.

Such is the back and forth absurdity, honesty and spontaneity of "Carter," a film that exists comfortably outside the rules of filmmaking where authentic characters are born.

It is no coincidence that Balas and the core members of the cast all receive writing credits for "Carter," a film that practically defines going with the flow and constantly feels as if its dialogue is birthed out of a combination of improvisation and the feelings of the moment. The entire acting ensemble, in fact, seems to get what Balas is trying to accomplish with "Carter" and all offer up strong performances, led by uncomfortable yet heartfelt performances from the two leads, Mark Robert Ryan and Julia Porter Howe. It's a credit to both performers and Balas that one is never completely sure how the story will ultimately resolve. It's also a credit to all involved that the resolution itself feels as authentic as the journey that got us there.

Tech credits are largely solid across the board, with Nathan Sandberg's original score and the art direction of J. Lynn Menzel warranting special mention for the ways in which they complement the absurdity and humanity of the film's goings on.

Currently on the film festival circuit, "Carter" is the best kind of indie flick in that it takes the audience places that Hollywood's mainstream releases dare not go. While it's likely that "Carter" won't be everyone's cup of tea, Ryan Andrew Balas guides the film with a sure and steady hand revealing a promising future for the young director. While the absurdity and the novelty of the way "Carter" is put together occasionally feels a touch too intentional, overall "Carter" is one of 2009's more unique and inspired releases from outside of Hollywood.

For more information on "Carter," visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic