There is something strange and wonderful about When Jeff Tried to Save the World, a little gem of a film starring Jon Heder, yes from Napoleon Dynamite, as Jeff, an underachieving manager of Winky's World, an old school bowling alley with few hopes of ever catching up to the modern world and the likelihood of closure right around the corner. When Jeff discovers that the owner does, indeed, have plans to close the place, he's challenged to pull himself out of the gutter if he wants to save himself and save Winky's.
I can hear you saying it already.
"This sounds like yet another "quirky" little film for Heder."
I get it. It may even be true, but I'm telling you that there's something special about When Jeff Tried to Save the World and there's something special about this ensemble cast, led by Heder, that transforms this quirky little film into something truly special that's more than worth your time.
Co-written and directed by Kendall Goldberg, When Jeff Tried to Save the World has the Centerpiece Screening spot at the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival with a special screening on Wednesday, October 17th at 8pm at Newfields. Both Goldberg and Heder are scheduled to be in attendance.
While Heder may always be best known for Napoleon Dynamite, the actor has continued to work steadily in a variety of both indie and studio projects and has gotten increasingly skilled at recognizing roles that perfectly complement his talent. When Jeff Tried to Save the World is an ideal film for Heder with Jeff's slightly quirky, mildly self-deprecating yet immensely likable personality and the fact that from beginning to end a weird, almost absurd story feels rather endearing and involving.
Heder's co-stars include Parks & Recreation's Jim O'Heir as the aforementioned boss, a quietly smarmy chap whom you really want to take out back and go whupass on, along with Fxx's Man Seeking Woman's Maya Erskine, Rosewood's Anna Konkle, Comedy Central's Steve Berg, and a handful of other faces that will likely have you pointing at the screen going "Hey, I know them!"
Yeah, you do.
When Jeff Tried to Save the World is based upon a short film of the same name also directed by Goldberg, who co-wrote both scripts alongside Rachel Borgo. Both Heder and O'Heir also return from the short film.
When Jeff Tried to Save the World is Goldberg's feature directing debut after a handful of successful shorts. At a mere 23-years-old, the now L.A.-based Chicago native graduated from Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film & Media Arts with a B.F.A. in Film Production and has wasted no time in making a name for herself.
Keep watching. Her name is going to keep getting bigger.
There's not a weak link in the film's ensemble cast, with Konkle, Erskine , Candi Milo, and Berg particularly shining. Nico Aguilar's lensing accentuates the film's retro-tinged vibe, while Hannah Parrott's original music complements the film's quietly funny, quietly human balance to perfection. Meaghan Wilbur's editing and Amy Frazzini's art design also deserve kudos.
When Jeff Tried to Save the World isn't the kind of film that's going to completely blow you away, but there's simply no doubt that's not what Goldberg's going for here. It's a quiet little story, quirky and sweet and funny and real, with characters who are fun to get to know and a story that feels authentic from beginning to end with an ending that makes sense and feels right for everyone involved.
Picked up by indie distributor Gunpowder & Sky, Heartland viewers will get a chance to check out the film before its release and it's unquestionably a film that deserves your attention.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic