Ryan Andrew Balas, Deirdre Herlihy, and Joe Swanberg
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Ryan Andrew Balas
It will come as no surprise to writer/director Ryan Andrew Balas that I have a strong preference for his last indie film, Carter, an adventurous film that I considered one of my favorite low-budget indies of 2009, over his most recent film, Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her, which had its world premiere right here in my hometown at the Indianapolis International Film Festival this week.
Balas, in fact, made sure to warn me that his latest film was considerably different from Carter with a stronger streak of adult themes including quite a bit of nudity and sexuality.
It's not, however, that I hated Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her or, for that matter, that I found myself bothered by its rampant sexuality. While bits and pieces of Balas's latest film resonated deeply and the four-person cast seemed to be having a good time (Of course, they are all attractive and there are worse things to do than have sex, right?), Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her lacks the focus of Carter and, for the most part, it's difficult to determine just what the audience is supposed to take away from a film that contains abundant sexuality, family conflicts, unresolved grief and dark humor all rolled into one.
Could this film have worked really well? Indeed. Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her feels like its right on the edge of being a really fine film that just narrowly misses due to a lack of focus and cohesion that makes it incredibly difficult to invest oneself fully into the lives of these characters and their stories.
It's a shame, really. These are inviting characters, including Emmie (Deirdre Herlihy), her adopted sister Kaya, Kaya's boyfriend Rowan (Balas) and Brandon (Joe Swanberg), a guy Emmie meets on the bus ride up to the Michigan home shared by Kaya and Rowan who quickly becomes her lover and boyfriend. Together, the sisters prepare for the weekend's anniversary of their mother's death while awaiting the arrival of their father.
Unfortunately, every dramatic arc is met by another interlude of sex to the point where it begins to feel like gratuitous, intentionally "edgy" filmmaking that has very little purpose within the context of the film unless one wants to stretch for a "creating life" in the midst of grieving death storyline.
I don't really care to stretch.
In Carter, the entire ensemble cast seemed to carry the film's rather unusual vibe. With this film, however, the film's intention gets lost in the often random transitions between intimate conversations, sex, meandering humor and serious family issues. Had Balas chosen to focus the film either as an intimate relationship dramedy or a serious family drama it's entirely likely that Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her would have been a more cohesive, satisfying film. Instead, it feels like we're getting multiple films here and none of them have been truly fleshed out.
Fortunately, despite the film's structural issues, Balas is blessed with a strong ensemble cast led by Deirdre Herlihy who manage to be convicting and convincing by offering a natural, authentic performance that vividly brings to life the very real tensions that can exist between two siblings, especially when one is adopted. Both Balas and Swanberg shine, as well, though one gets the sense both would have been stronger had the film emphasized its comic edge.
Tech credits are solid for a low-budget indie, though the film features quite a few indoor shots that got lost in darkness in the Indianapolis Museum of Art's rather cavernous Tobey Theatre. Richard Buonagurio's camera work is stellar when the film is outdoors, though there are, again, indoor scenes where the film's modest budget is evident. Nathan Sandberg's original score plays mostly for drama, feeling a tad out of balance during the film's lighter moments.
While Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her lacks the cohesiveness and clarity of Carter, the film further reveals Balas's gift for creating interesting, well-developed characters and natural dialogue. This being the film's world premiere weekend, it should be interesting to see where the film ends up by the end of its festival run.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic