James Thomas Gilbert, Jessica McClendon, Eric Reeves, Bill Sebastian
Bill Sebastian, based upon a play by Steven Walters
Cinema Obscura (USA DVD)
Every film festival has that one film. It's the ONE film that seemingly comes out of nowhere to completely take your breath away.
"Midlothia," written and directed by Bill Sebastian, is that ONE film for the 2007 Indianapolis International Film Festival.
"Midlothia" didn't win a jury prize at this year's festival.
Heck, "Midlothia" didn't even capture an "Audience Award."
"Midlothia," in all honesty, was likely a tad too simple in its presentation and design to be considered for a jury prize.
An audience award? Again, in all honesty, "Midlothia" is such a deeply felt, intensely honest and transparently emotional film that it's hard to fathom an audience saying "Oh, yes. We pick this one. We pick "Midlothia." This film hurts...hurts like hell at times. This film will make you laugh, sometimes at all the wrong things, and will have you squirming in your seats aching for each of the four main characters and, on a couple occasions, praying that each one gets out of this thing alive.
In a perfect world, an audience would wrap itself around a film such as "Midlothia" and say "Damn. Finally a film that has the balls to really show smalltown life." "Midlothia" does this in abudance, practically celebrating and mourning smalltown life in the same scene, with all its glorious quirks and uncomfortable imperfections.
Writer/Director Bill Sebastian tackles the role of Fred, the catalyst, it seems, for everything that happens in "Midlothia" and the closest thing the film has to a a redneck. Of course, one expects a redneck in a film that features the tagline "It's kind of like therapy only with guns and booze." "Midlothia" really IS like therapy with guns and booze.
As the film opens, Fred wakes up in the middle of nowhere after an all-night drunk, having missed his going away party on his last night in this road to nowhere town, and having experienced a sort of spiritual epiphany. His friends, Duck (James Thomas Gilbert), Bill (Eric Reeves) and possibly ex-fiancee April (Jessica McClendon) are torn between their own hopes and dreams and being downright pissed off that Fred's got the guts to get away from their little town.
By the time Fred finally shows up to share his spiritual epiphany and renewed sense of commitment, life in Midlothia for these four friends will likely never be the same. As much as "Midlothia" is a richly authentic mirror of smalltown life, it's equally a mirror of what it feels like for many of us growing up, getting friends, losing other friends, finding out who we are and, eventually, facing our hopes and dreams, secrets and fears.
The brilliance of "Midlothia" is that it takes a perfect portrayal of smalltown life and, in the end, makes the message universal.
"Midlothia" is not just a film about Bill, Fred, Duck and April. It's about you. It's about me. It's about us.
As Fred, Sebastian wisely avoids redneck stereotypes and blind rage. Instead, Sebastian's Fred is deeply flawed yet so richly human that it's impossible to not feel deep sympathy for this young man whose balled-up emotions explode on the screen in the form of ass kickings and random acts of violence. Yet, Fred is such an obviously heartfelt, misguided young man that every bad choice he makes has you going "Please do the right thing this time." Fred's final scene in the film is one of such awkward tenderness that you find yourself taking a deep breath and going...AHHHHHH, perfect.
Fred's friends are brought to life just as powerfully in "Midlothia," with nary a wrong note to be found anywhere in the remainder of the cast.
As Duck, James Thomas Gilbert serves up a constant reminder of that lost friend we all have who drinks his life away trying to escape the pain of bad decisions, lost dreams and being too damn afraid to do anything to change anything. Gilbert's Duck is a lost soul desperately clinging to the only safety he knows...Gilbert, quite wonderfully, gets laughs as Duck without turning Duck into a joke himself. Gilbert's performance is, in many ways, the film's emotional core and a breath of fresh air each time it seems as if the intensity is about to become too much to bear.
As the friend with the most secrets to reveal, Eric Reeves offers the most understated, yet heartbreakingly sensitive performance of this ensemble. Having sacrificed his potential for unfulfilled dreams, Reeves' Bill is truly a man whose only hope may be actually leaving this small town for good.
Likewise, however, Jessica McClendon is utterly devastating as April, a young woman whose own words indicate her sense of self worth, "The only thing I was ever good at was having a boyfriend."
The way McClendon delivers this simple line?
McClendon's performance is so intimately vulnerable that virtually every stalking southern boy is bound to fall in love with her...so sweet, yet so wounded that you just want to swoop her up into your arms and die protecting her.
Filmed on location in Midlothia, Texas, "Midlothia" featuers a spot-on perfect soundtrack and score along with simple yet effective production design taking perfect advantage of the film's smalltown setting. Sebastian's script is so intimate and natural that "Midlothia" feels less like a cinematic experience and more like we've become real life friends intertwined in the lives of these four young people. Only a late, ever-so brief pregnancy bit by April feels a tad bit forced and unnecessary, however, even that scene ultimately leads to one of the film's most powerful and revealing moments.
It's difficult to rate a film such as "Midlothia," an obviously lower-budget, less than technically perfect film that, nonetheless, indicates a filmmaker and cast possessing uncommon talents and gifts. The few minor technical flaws evident, almost solely due to a limited budget, are irrelevant here..."Midlothia" is not only the best film having screened at the Indianapolis International Film Festival this year, it may very well be one of the best films to screen anywhere in the U.S. in 2007.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic