I'm not a big fan of using the word "quirky" in reviews, but in the case of the improvisational Wake Up, Leonard it's safe to say that quirky is a pretty wonderful thing to be. Accurately described by the folks at Indy's Heartland International Film Festival as a "feel good movie about feeling bad," Wake Up, Leonard is definitely one of the 31st annual Heartland Film Fest's most feel good motion pictures.
The story centers around Leonard (Nigel DeFriez), of course, whom we meet in a sort of meditative place with his hilarious posturing and a white hair bow that tells you Leonard, and this film, aren't likely to be business as usual.
Indeed, it's true that Wake Up, Leonard is amongst the comedy selections at this year's Heartland though there's be no mistaking its abundant heart and its absolutely winning spirit. I intentionally decided to review Wake Up, Leonard on what is known globally as World Mental Health Day because while there's lots of humor to be found here there's no denying that as much as Leonard makes us laugh he's a bit of a troubled soul whose flamboyance often masks his inner turmoil. You'll laugh with him, not at him, but you'll also be rooting for him the entire way.
Leonard is in a state of flux. He's moving into a new place while still nursing a bit of a broken heart. So, when a surprise text offers the possibility of a date with the ex-boyfriend he tries to get into the ever elusive perfect vibe. No matter how hard he tries, getting on his vibe just isn't working.
Directed by Kat Mills Martin, Wake Up, Leonard manages to ooze sincerity even tossing around an abundance of quirk, goofiness, attempts at self-love, and even a little Christmas.
Don't ask. Just go with it.
DeFriez is absolutely the heart and soul of Wake Up, Leonard and this is the kind of performance you can't help but wish the Hollywood folks would see because DeFriez is doing mighty fine work here. Kira Pearson is a joy as Orla, Leonard's sister, and the two have a believable chemistry that gives the film a needed layer of emotional resonance to keep us invested and keep us laughing.
Wake Up, Leonard is a 73-minute emotionally honest yet very funny story about one man's broken heart and his search for wellness, meaning, stability, and so much more. The film explores mental health with humor and insight while also looking at queer love, self-acceptance, and whether or not it really "is a wonderful life."
While this off-kilter, quirky, and often frenzied humor may not work for everyone, for those who surrender to it Wake Up, Leonard will be one of the 2022 Heartland International Film Fest's funniest and quirkiest cinematic experiences.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic