Have you ever sat up late at night watching MTV?
The broadcast world where music videos used to rule has long been replaced by teenage angst, celebrity worship, the "Real World" and life through the eyes of twentysomethings.
I thought about this world a lot as I watched "The Lionshare," the debut feature from writer/director John Bernhard. In "The Lionshare," Nick discovers a website called "The Lionshare" and online piracy on his first date with Eva, whom he not so surprisingly met on the internet.
"The Lionshare" exists in this world that young adults embrace, children aren't quite ready for and older adults often just plain don't understand. The film centers on around three characters- the aforementioned filmmaker Nick (Mike Pantozzi), his roommate Matty (Jonathan Hansen) and the musically inclined Bracey (Bracey Smith), who provides the film with its strong musical core and a supremely winning performance.
"The Lionshare" is a fine example of grassroots filmmaking, an effort by a group of talented young professionals to work outside the typical Hollywood business model by focusing on artistic vision and integrity first while trusting that those who embrace their work will, in turn, support it.
It's a bold experiment, but fitting of a film that finds its inspiration in the practically mundane, everyday moments of being a twentysomething and stumbling through daily life trying to figure out "What's next?"
In a sense, "The Lionshare" is about how technology has shaped our relationships, our attachments, our emotions and our inter-connectedness. This is particularly true among young adults, for whom texting, IM'ing, web dating, file sharing and late nights hunched over a computer monitor falling in love has become practically second nature.
What you perhaps cannot imagine, "The Lionshare" takes for granted. What used to seem foreign is now an essential part of our being, and its Bernhard's ability to make this all seem so freakin' ordinary that makes "The Lionshare" an effective piece of cinema.
Mike Pantozzi does a nice job as Nick, a decent young man whose transformation online isn't that far removed from a recent Brad Paisley song in which the country crooner sings that he's "so much cooler online." Yet, Nick really IS a decent young man simply trying to get things figured out while living in the world in which the internet is a crucial way in which we connect with one another. Of course, we also become privvy to a world in which this deceptively anonymous cyber world can be used as a thing of beauty and, alternatively, a weapon of destruction.
It's the friendship between Matty and Bracey that provides "The Lionshare" with much of its emotional resonance, a comfortable friendship with the perfect blend of heart and humor. Both Hansen and Smith have an easygoing, natural presence about them that comes alive nicely when the two share the screen.
With music at its very core, "The Lionshare" feels like a film that belongs in the MTV universe. Featuring stellar original tunes by cast member Bracey Smith, "The Lionshare" plays out like a unique mixing of traditional cinema, performance art, poetry and coffeehouse concert. It's as if Bernhard visited his local coffeehouse, listened to the conversations going on amidst the music and created a film based upon the everyday lives of its inhabitants.
There's no denying that "The Lionshare" is hindered by its obviously modest budget, from occasionally muddy vocals to lighting issues and the usual "low budget" production values, yet there's something refreshing about a filmmaker taking these obstacles and creating a film that fits nicely within their confines. "The Lionshare" may not be a flawless film in terms of tech credits, but it's an admirable, entertaining, heartfelt and respectable first effort from Josh Bernhard with a strong cast to boot.
For more information on "The Lionshare," visit the film's website or, in keeping with the filmmaker's desire to make his film accessible, why not just view the film for yourself at openfilm.com.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic