"Non-actors in a non-situation. It's a non-movie!"
What were they thinking?Some directors have had good luck casting non-actors in roles similar to who they really are; Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou ("Not One Less") has done quite well with it. It often lends a film realism, and is particularly helpful when dealing with realistic subject matter.
But using real people and running around with hand-held cameras and using improvised-sounding dialogue can sometimes backfire, as Ara Corbett's "Roof to Roof" demonstrates. In this case, all those devices do indeed make the film realistic -- they make it boring, like real life often is. A victory for realism, perhaps, but a defeat for stupefied audiences.
The disappointing thing is, there's a really good story here, completely under-developed and under-directed. Armenian immigrants living in Los Angeles are at the center, particularly one Zaven (Zaven Movsesian), a single father who works as an auto mechanic to support his adorable daughter Amy (Amy Aivazian). If he can become a licensed smog technician, he'll make more money. He has to pass a test to do this, though, and his English skills are less than his daughter's.
Complicating matters is the fact that Amy is becoming increasingly interesting in Zaven's sister's affluent lifestyle. Zaven must come to terms with wanting Amy to be happy, and wanting her to be with him.
It sounds good, but it's not. Though only 73 minutes long, the movie manages to waste a lot of time with lengthy scenes about nothing and plenty of dialogue that goes nowhere. Why is there a scene in which Zaven and Amy are driving somewhere, and she's reciting a nonsense poem to him? Is it because the script devotes only six or seven minutes to the actual plot, and the rest is padding to make it into a feature-length film?The acting is nothing special, and it would have taken some serious thespianism to overcome such a weak script and indifferent direction anyway.