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The Independent Critic

Mark Stewart Iverson, Annie Rix
Michael Noens
Michael Noens
72 Mins.

 "Darren & Abbey" Review 
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In Michael Noens' "Darren & Abbey," two teenagers thrust into each other's lives spend an unexpected Christmas Eve together discussing five major human desires: power, money, family, sex and time.

Darren (Mark Stewart Iverson, "Dorm Life") is a somewhat reserved young man in town to spend the holidays with longtime friend Eric (Matt Drake), while Abbey (Annie Rix), Eric's younger sister, is largely avoiding the holidays thanks to a bad break-up the week before. When Eric abandons Darren with Abbey to run off with a beautiful girl, the stage is set for a simple, honest and life-changing evening of conversation, confession and a few other amusing diversions.

Currently getting ready to hit the film festival circuit, "Darren & Abbey" is somewhat reminiscent of Travis Betz's beautiful "Sunday," an indie flick that found its way to my annual Top 10 list last year largely owing to its wondrous simplicity, amazing tenderness and vibrant performances by Devin Barry and Sarah Larissa Deckert. While "Darren & Abbey" isn't likely to enter my Top 10 for 2009, it does continue Noens' impressive ability to tap into generational dialogue, human intimacies and insecurities, the joy of everyday life's quirks and a wondrous ability to put pen to paper and create relationships that feel rich and authentic.

On the surface, Darren and Abbey would seem quite different.

Darren is quieter, more contemplative and seemingly guarded with his inner workings. Darren thinks, then speaks, then thinks, then speaks, then thinks and speaks again.

Abbey, on the other hand, is a more vibrant young woman whose soul is fed through her stage work and whose heart is seemingly worn on her sleeve. Abbey believes wholeheartedly in breaking the rules and taking risks.

Together, at least initially, there is an unconvincing awkwardness as both Darren and Abbey go for simple cordiality to burgeoning friendship to, perhaps, a flicker of chemistry between them. The relationship, indeed, does not always convince because the two themselves are not easily convinced. Yet, as the two discuss those ever present human desires of power, money, family, sex and time it becomes abundantly clear that underneath Darren's guarded facade and Abbey's faux bravado exists two souls who may very well need each other.

"Darren & Abbey" is most beautiful to behold when Iverson and Rix are beginning their dance of emotional intimacy, scenes that blossom because Noens has the patience as a director to allow the scenes to unfold without killing the mood with dialogue and distraction. It is in these scenes when both Iverson and Rix appear to be the most relaxed, emotionally and physically. While Iverson's Darren is a man of few words and describes himself as nervous around people, he's played with enough humanity and heart that it's easy to see and understand why Abbey becomes closer to him over the course of the unexpected evening together. Mostly known for his work on Hulu's web-based "Dorm Life," Mark Stewart Iverson nicely blends strength and sensitivity as Darren and, wisely, Noens never takes Darren down a path that feels unnatural or insincere. Instead, as he did with his last film "Coasting," Noens trusts his characters and the relationship that manifests between them.

As Abbey, Annie Rix has the difficult task of bringing to life a young woman who is both vibrantly alive and yet fully and richly human. As the relationship between Darren and Abbey becomes more and more grounded, it is Rix's Abbey who exhibits the most visible changes as her verbal cues and body language become more expressive and even her eyes seemingly soften. The film's closing scenes, in which both Darren and Abbey simply yet beautifully reach out to one another, work wonders because both Iverson and Rix allow themselves to become vulnerable.

Noens' camera work is solid throughout "Darren & Abbey," while the original music by Theadore complements the changing relationship between Darren and Abbey quite nicely. The production design of Patricia Noens is simple yet effective in the way it illustrates the different worlds of Darren and Abbey without ever jarring one's senses.

An up-and-coming writer/director from the Chicago area, Michael Noens serves up another modestly budgeted feature film with heart, humor and refreshingly real humanity. Watch for "Darren & Abbey" at a film festival or theatre near you! For more information on "Darren & Abbey," visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic