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The Independent Critic

Greg Brostrom, Ben Jeffrey, Christina Blodgett, Kate Bartholomew
Stephen Wallace Pruitt
Mary Settle Pruitt and Stephen Wallace Pruitt
NR (Equiv. to "PG")
109 Mins.
Vanguard Cinema (DVD)


 "Works in Progress" Review 
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Stephen Wallace Pruitt, the co-writer and director of Works in Progress, has reportedly submitted his film to Indy's own Indianapolis International Film Festival, and while he likely has a genuine shot at the festival it's another local fave that would be even more perfect for the film, the Heartland Film Festival, a film festival that celebrates the human spirit and inspiration in film-making. It will be interesting to see if this low-budget indie makes the cut at IIFF, but whether or not Pruitt finds himself at the 2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival with his film he should take comfort in knowing that he has truly created a film in the Heartland Film Festival tradition. 

Works in Progress is a film that radiates the values and moral center of a faith inspired film while grounding itself deeply within the hopeful yet authentic lives of its infinitely likable and enjoyable characters. With Works in Progress, first-time filmmaker Pruitt, a native of Speedway , Indiana now residing in Overland Park, Kansas, has created a light-hearted and life-affirming romantic comedy and a throwback to the good ole' days when romantic comedies were both romantic and funny rather than overtly sexual and raunchy.

Works in Progress actually brings to mind one of my favorite faith-inspired indie films, Christian Vuissa's Baptists at Our Barbecue, a romantic comedy that managed to be funny, sincere and good-hearted without resorting to unnecessary histrionics, special effects or gratuitous nudity. Works in Progress is similar in the way that the characters project a maturity, admittedly at times a goofy one, that is often absent from romantic comedies these days.

John (Greg Brostrom) and Patrick (Ben Jeffrey) are two artists who move to the big city in hopes of starting off their careers in the art world. They quickly attract the attention of a not particularly well meaning art dealer (Sam Kane), who convinces the duo to compromise their artistic integrity for the sake of sales. Meanwhile, John meets Abbey (Christina Blodgett) at one of his shows and the two begin dating. The well-intentioned but not always well thought out Patrick Googles Abbey, and uses the information gleaned from a previously published blog to help guide John towards better understanding the object of his affection.

Being a "second chance" film critic myself, a writer who got detoured for most of my younger adult years before finding my way back into writing in my late 30's and early 40's, it is of special interest to approach a film such as Works in Progress, whose director has begun chasing his dream in his 50's and has scored big with a well constructed, entertaining and heartfelt film that benefits from both the enthusiasm of a first-time filmmaker and the maturity of a filmmaker who has clearly experienced enough of a life to create balance and insight in the relationships between the characters he and his co-writer/wife, Mary Settle Pruitt, have created.

Indeed, it is the heart and the goodness that makes Works in Progress a film to be seen. Filmed on a modest production budget of right around $300,000, Works in Progress is beautifully photographed by D.P.'s Seth Iliff and Isaac Alongi with kudos as well being offered for the production design team's simple yet authentic sets. The film includes a delightful soundtrack featuring music from the likes of Sara Groves, Known as Tycoons, Louise Goffin, two seconds way and Meghan Zeikle.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a film such as Works in Progress largely rests upon the shoulders of its cast. Can the cast convincingly sell a story without the distractions and production supports often offered by high budget sound editing, camera tricks, special effects and the actual editing process? Can the cast be convincing enough in their portrayals that those low-budget inevitables like the occasional sound mix glitch or not quite clean edit doesn't distract?

It IS possible to create a wonderful, unforgettable cinematic experience on a low budget. While Works in Progress isn't a masterpiece nor cinema likely to find life in the multiplexes anytime soon, the film is the kind of film that deserves a solid life on the indie fest circuit and should undoubtedly find a place on the home video market if it is marketed correctly. Works in Progress is the kind of film that faith-based audiences, for example, absolutely crave with its strong moral center yet decidedly non-preachy approach towards healthy, fully human and richly developed characters and relationships.

While he's mostly a third wheel within the framework of the film's story, it is Ben Jeffrey's inspired and entertaining performance as Patrick that gives Works in Progress its emotional core and its wonderful spirit. Jeffrey sort of resembles a Seth Rogen, even offering that same adorable quirkiness that has turned Rogen into a household name. Jeffrey is as convincing as the over-the-top best friend as he is the heartfelt friend determined to do the right thing. It's not so much that Jeffrey offers an amazing performance as it is he offers what feels like a true performance where you buy into his friendship with John and, well, you buy into virtually everything he does.

The relationship between John and Abbey gets off to a slow start, as Abbey is guarded and John is just a wee bit distracted by life. While I'm not entirely convinced that the initial awkwardness was by design, there's a delightful chemistry that builds over the course of the film that makes the relationship's peaks and valleys all the more convincing and satisfying. Greg Brostrom isn't asked to play an immense range here, yet the character he creates is convincing as a young man who is, indeed, a work in progress. While the building conflict between John and the art dealer, especially during one climactic scene, feels forced and even a bit contrived, for the remainder of the film Brostrom is a convincing and effective lead who is quite well matched with Christina Blodgett.

Initially, Blodgett's take on Abbey feels not quite right. It's not quite clear, at least initially, if Abbey is an intellectual prima donna or a princess or maybe just a wounded soul. In the film's first half, this felt like a performance issue involving hesitation on behalf of Blodgett.


By the film's second half, it becomes abundantly clear where Blodgett is going with a character who, at least on paper, is fairly simply defined and constructed. Without strictly defining Abbey, Blodgett springs beautifully to life in the film's second half and it becomes clear that love is the art that is decorating her life and allowing her to blossom both internally and externally. The closing scenes in Works in Progress are among the film's most emotionally resonant because of the ways in which Blodgett's entire physical being communicates her growth, her healing and her love. It is during these scenes that Works in Progress transcends what is usually meant by the term "romantic comedy" and really becomes a film of tremendous substance and heart.

Works in Progress has proven to be popular on the film festival circuit with appearances at Kansas City Film Fest, San Antonio Film Festival, Feel Good Film Festival, Hollywood's International Family Film Festival, Independents Film Festival and On Location: Memphis International Film Festival. Works in Progress received the Dove Foundation's "Seal of Approval" for audiences aged 12 and up. Works in Progress has been picked up by the fine folks at Vanguard Cinema for a DVD release following the end of its festival run.

ADDENDUM: I'm pleased to report that Works in Progress is an Official Selection of Indy's own Heartland Film Festival. Indeed, a well deserved honor!

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic