It's always difficult to review a film like The Last Straw, an obvious passion project for the cast and crew involved including co-writer/director Stolis Hadjicharalambous that has lingered in various stages of production for several years before its recent completion and early stages of public exhibition including a couple of charity shows and festival submissions.
An indie comedy set in the high school world, The Last Straw centers around Mr. Quint (Jerry Murdock), the ruthless dean of discipline whose unorthodox techniques may get the students in line but they also eventually cross the line. Pushed too far, Bruce Bauer (Henry Borriello) and his ragtag team of misfits decide to fight back.
They ain't just spittin' against the wind.
Produced on an estimated $20,000 budget, The Last Straw has the look and feel and sound of a low-budget project. If you've never been around the microcinema world, it can be prove to be distracting. The film's sound mix is wildly hit-and-miss, occasionally pristine and clear and occasionally possessing such a pronounced echo that it makes you want to yodel. The lensing, while fine in terms of technique, is hindered by an occasional fuzzy quality that is mildly distracting.
As someone who reviews indie projects on a regular basis, the film's obvious low-budget production values weren't particularly distracting for the most part. While many sci-fi and action flicks to be genres of film particularly hurt by a low budget, the truth is I've always considered comedy to be the most challenging genre when it comes to working with a low budget. After all, with comedy there's the importance of editing and quick camera cuts that can help take an average comedy bit and turn it into something special. While there are actors and actresses who can overcome tech challenges, it's a tad rare.
In the case of The Last Straw, the film is most hurt by that common concern among high school-themed films - actors and actresses who, in most cases, look incredibly older than high school students and whose acting as high school students looks more like bad Adam Sandler than classic John Hughes. At times, The Last Straw reminded me of early Project Greenlight winner The Battle of Shaker Heights.
I'll let you decide if that's a compliment.
While it may seem like I'm beating up on a film that I'm still managing to give two stars, on an admittedly curved grading scale, the truth is there's some strong potential to be found in The Last Straw. Todd Maki's original music is light and fun and complements the film quite nicely, while the ensemble cast, despite often appearing too old for their roles, give spirited and fun performances.
The Last Straw is the kind of film one expects to find at indie and underground film festivals, a passion project made on a low budget by a cast and crew giving it all they've got. Truthfully, much of it didn't work for me but I'll go to my grave defending the presence of films just like it. For more information on the film, visit its Facebook page linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic