At times, you can't help but feel like Mike Cuenca's full-length feature I'll Be Around is as aimless as the characters themselves, though this isn't nearly the insult you might be thinking it is and it actually tends to lend the film a natural spark that makes even the most sluggish, mundane moments quite entertaining throughout the film's just over two hour running time.
The film is set against the backdrop of a post-punk music festival and centers around a literal slew of eccentric thirtysomethings struggling with life, society, work, their art, and the seemingly impossible task of weaving all of these things together.
If you're looking for a film with a cohesive plot, look elsewhere. I'll Be Around goes around and around a myriad of different story arcs, some matter and some really don't particularly matter. In essence, that may very well be what the film is ultimately about.
I'll Be Around features special appearances by several familiar faces, a nice touch of authenticity, including J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Frank Agnew (The Adolescents), Casey Royer (D.I.), punk icon Pleasant Gehman, and Mystery Science Theater 3000's Jonah Ray. The action takes place over the course of a day, before and during the festival, and the film's music definitely kicks some serious ass.
While the special appearance are cool, I'll Be Around ultimately gets its groove from its actual eccentric characters that populate the film from beginning to end. Among the special appearances, Jonah Ray shines brightest as a hilariously twisted hypnotist whom you're definitely going to remember. It's Sarah Lawrence who truly stands out, her Eve Valentine a successful rock vet who's seemingly lost her identity and vacillates between bickering with her manager and fans and showing us glimpses of the rock star with whom everyone likely fell in love. Lawrence does a beautiful job of capturing Eve's broad spectrum and offers a performance here that demands Hollywood take a bigger look at the actress.
Brendan Takash's Kip is also incredibly memorable. He's another one you fall in love with from his opening scene, an introverted weirdness that is both compelling and definitely punkish. You'll identify with him more than a little and yet Takash creates an incredibly unique character who defies the stereotypes often found in this type of role.
Drew Clapp shines as Cooper, somehow transcending a storyline that isn't particularly engaging and selling us on Cooper anyway. Emma Koffroth gives a charismatic turn as Babs, while Kat Yeary's turn as Joanie takes that old "I'm a musician but I gotta pay the bills" storyline and adds some substance to it. Grant Moninger and Jesse Gavin have a good time as a couple of thieves with their own artistic bent. There are others, quite a few others, as I'll Be Around's interweaving storylines involve right around 50 characters whose presence varies greatly amidst the film.
The third feature film from Cuenca, I'll Be Around is a crowdfunded effort that had just kicked off its festival run when COVID-19 stormed its way into the U.S. and disrupted fests nationwide and around the world. The film picked up the prize for Best Independent Film at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and seems destined to pick up a few more awards along its indie/micro fest journey once COVID-19 gets kicked to the curb.
Co-written by Cuenca with Dan Rojay, I'll Be Around possesses a strong naturalism throughout and Cuenca and Rojay have a strong ear for dialogue even if the overall film tries a little bit too hard to accomplish a little bit too much and occasionally falls a wee bit short.
For the most part, these modest lapses are excused because the film's so incredibly engaging and the characters are just a joy to travel with even in their relatively irrelevant moments. In fact, with such a large cast it seems weird to not mention a few more. So, what the heck, let's give some major kudos to Sofia Grace as Phoebe and Joey Halter's surprisingly meaningful turn as Rex Dollar$, a smooth talker with a bit of an ejaculation issue.
Jessica Gallant's lensing is strong throughout and while the music itself is a little more secondary than you might expect, it gives the film practically a perfect vibe and energy.
For more information on I'll Be Around, be sure to visit the film's website and watch for it at an indie fest for you. Solid music features are rather hard to come by and I'll Be Around is a definite winner.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic