Siara (Jan Kamar) opens up writer/director Frankie Gaddo's Orangutan mysteriously. She's a young woman sitting alone in a smallish room with a handful of chairs laid out in a circle. Before long, the people who will fill those chairs start to arrive - Eben (Mat Holmlund), Merel (Mike D. Smith), Janet (Olivia Grubic), Paul (Brent Baird), and Beatrice (Caro Coltman).
All five have problems. This concoction of Siara's is, in essence, a problems group. A social work type who has been working as a barista at a local coffeeshop, Siara longs to make a difference in the world and decides that this problems clinic is the way to do it.
I suppose actually getting a job in social work was out of the question.
Unsurprisingly, it doesn't take too long for Siara to figure out she may be in over her head.
At one point during Orangutan I found myself thinking "Well, I guess there really is a bottom of the social work class."
To be fair, there's an intriguing idea bubbling underneath the surface of Orangutan, a film that essentially centers around the idea that it's a whole lot easier to solve our problems if we work together.
Shot for the most part in a single, sparsely decorated location, Orangutan is dependent upon the unique personalities of those participating in this problem-solving experience including the rather mysterious Siara along with love-seeking Eben, Paul with a troubled marriage, Beatrice grieving for her deceased cat, the isolated Janet, and the slightly adventurous Merel. These problems, of course, unfold in ways that are occasionally dramatic and occasionally humorous. They build into conflicts within the group and attempts by Siara to coral the group into something resembling a cohesive unit. The film unfolds at a gentle, reasonable pace and at just over 90 minutes feels like we could actually be watching the group unfold.
On some level, I'm probably not the target audience for Orangutan because as someone who spent just shy of ten years in the counseling field I found myself bothered by the lack of realism, lack of professionalism, and ethical issues that kept popping up throughout Orangutan. I tried and I tried. I simply couldn't surrender to the film and none of these characters felt real to me.
I suppose you could say I never bought it.
Does this mean I hated the film? Oh, not at all. In fact, those who are able to surrender more fully to the concept will not doubt appreciate it more than I did. There's an audience for Orangutan. It's simply not me.
Orangutan is available via Prime Video and Plex and will soon be available via TubiTV. The film had quite the festival run and its unique story is ideally suited to the indie/microcinema fest circuit. The film is your fairly typical ultra-indie with hit-and-miss performances, Olivia Grubic as Janet was a personal fave, and production values that hindered the building of any sort of dramatic tension. Orangutan is stronger in its moments of levity and Gaddo's script nicely weaves together the balance of serious drama and humor manifesting naturally. To Gaddo's credit, humor is found in situations rather than actually making fun of these characters.
Orangutan is one of those films where it simply didn't gel together for me, however, there's no doubt an indie audience that will embrace the meaningful storyline and these honest, authentic characters. Plus, you'll be supporting an up-and-coming filmmaker by watching it.
That's always a win.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic