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1 review, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"More than just a clever gimmick."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: I'd like to talk about "Roman" without mentioning "May", for a number of reasons. First, I didn't particularly like "May" (which has gained a following despite my expressing disappointment to as many as a half-dozen people) and do like "Roman". Second, I worry a little that doing so makes "Roman" look like just a gimmick film: Lucky McKee directed "May" with Angela Bettis as the title character, while Bettis directs McKee here. With McKee writing the script, it's very easy to think of "Roman" as McKee's follow-up to "May" and discount Bettis's contribution.

It's hard not to notice the similarities, of course - Roman (McKee) is a loner, spending the hours after he gets home from his work as a welder sitting in his apartment by himself, waiting for his pretty neighbor (Kristen Bell) to get her mail. One day they actually meet, and talk, and kind of hit it off, although not quite as much as Roman thinks and... well, it doesn't end well. Soon another young woman moves into the complex; Eva (Nectar Rose) is a quirky artist, similarly pretty but more inclined to pursue him. She's fascinated by death, which is sort of an uncomfortable subject for Roman right now.

As much as the themes of the two movies are similar, they're visually complete opposites. May was shot on film, with deep black shadows that a person could almost reach out and grab hold of. Roman is shot on digital video and looks it; especially under the harsh industrial lighting at Roman's place of employment. Daytime shots are bathed in California sunshine, penetrating Roman's spartan apartment through a a large picture window. Even nighttime shots seem clear and crisp. Bettis and Cinematographer Kevin Ford are very canny here, not using video as a budget-minded substitute for film but instead making use of is specific properties to make Roman feel very immediate and voyeuristic. The movie often seems like a disturbing home video, even when it's doing things like allowing Roman to narrate or letting us hear the whispers in his head and the images that go along with them.

Bettis and Ford also work together in the editing room, keeping the film from ever getting bloated and finding the right balance between Roman at home and Roman at work. We see brief bits of him there, almost always opening with him behind a welding mask just before the bell rings to signal a break or the end of a shift. It's a way to show the passage of time between events - something happens, Roman hides himself and then comes out before the next thing happens - and it gives us a chance to see Roman as others see him: Weird and anti-social but someone they can tease without arousing his wrath.

Bettis is solid, if not outstanding as a director and McKee is about the same as an actor. He does give Roman a certain odd menace to go with his awkwardness, but I'm never quite sold on his feelings of guilt; much of the time, he seems to be reciting lines rather than acting. The part is written to his strengths, though, so even where his line reading is rough, the audience still sees Roman rather than McKee trying to be Roman. The women who by and large make their living in front of a camera act circles around him. Kristin Bell builds a sympathetic character out of a pretty face and a couple of anecdotes, enough to make us regret her not being around later in the movie. Nectar Rose doesn't quite sell me on her free spirit's darker interests, but she's a convincing and likable eccentric.

The movie is a little wobbly in spots, though. When it gets to the point where it's about body parts, it's more than a bit unconvincing - the various bits look kind of rubbery (although, hey, actual body parts in that condition may look that way; I've never seen one). Scenes of Roman handling them had the audience laughing much more than creeped out, and a comic sequence of Roman trying to hide one seemed especially ill-advised. A number of factors, from lines dropped early on to the casting seemed to be leading to a certain plot twist, and when that didn't come I felt odd: I thought everything fit together too well to be coincidence and that the ending I'd guessed made more sense than the one we were presented with. But, on the other hand, this movie isn't really a mystery or a thriller; getting all plot-twisty might have distracted from a good character study.

I should have asked about that during the Q&A. Still, it doesn't make sense to run a movie down for not being what I thought it was going to be or should have been. It's pretty good at being what it is, a creepy little look into a disturbed mind.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15227&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/06/07 20:19:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2006 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2007 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/23/10 Corky As disturbing as it is hysterical, but I didn't like the ending... 3 stars
5/05/08 mr.mike Interesting take on "Psycho" 4 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 27-Mar-2007



Directed by
  Angela Bettis

Written by
  Lucky McKee

  Lucky McKee
  Kristen Bell
  Ben Boyer
  James Duval
  Jesse Hlubik
  Nectar Rose

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