Search for Simon, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/23/14 12:52:25
SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: Plenty of sci-fi and fantasy stories take great care to suggest that they take place in the world we know, just out of sight, but is that always a good idea? Our world is often filled with heartbreak and sadness, and while they co-exist with whimsy and joy in reality, putting both the fantastical and the tragically true in the same work of fiction can make for a real mess. It eventually comes very close to sinking "The Search for Simon", to be honest, as a movie that had been kind of precariously balanced anyway attempts to stretch too far in too many directions.As it opens, David Jones (writer/director Martin Gooch) has been searching for his missing brother Simon ever since he disappeared thirty years ago, when the two were young boys. David, for reasons both absurd and reasonable, believes Simon to have been abducted by aliens, and when he shares this with writer/psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch (Noeleen Comiskey), she acts interested, although mostly as a template for an obsessed character in her next novel. Eloise does wind up introducing David to a nice girl, Sally (Millie Reeves), although talking to David's alcoholic mother Irene (Carol Cleveland) may provide more answers than the various trips David goes on to UFO hot spots.
The Search for Simon doesn't start off as a great movie, but it does at least seem to have a sense of what it is: A kind of black comedy where nearly everybody acts mockingly or patronizingly toward David, and it's okay to laugh at him because he persists in being so ridiculous. It's kind of mean-spirited, perhaps, but it's got some good gags, and Gooch manages a balance between making his main character sympathetic and ridiculous. It's probably not a balance that could be maintained all the way to the end - Gooch is inevitably going to have to make David face some uncomfortable facts or be improbably correct - but the film has enough good bits to score at a decent rate. It's got some big dead spots and some nerd-baiting humor, but most of the jokes work.
Still, it probably didn't need to tip over quite so completely. As things advance toward the end, some of the gags get much broader and sillier, even as the new information that fills in the gaps in what the audience knew is far darker than expected or strictly necessary, and while either development individually might seem like too much of one thing or another, in concert they just leave the situation uncomfortable for the audience. Are we supposed to laugh at the absurd thing or feel horrified and sympathetic about what we learn immediately after? Throw in nearly everybody suddenly seeming to act out of character to a certain extent, and it's something of a mess. These shifts don't undo the good work that came before, but it does get the audience further away from it.
Gooch and the rest of the cast are a nice group, though. Gooch is able to pull off the sad sack nerd part of David well most of the time, and this is one of those characters where the line between sweet and dumb can be an easy one to cross. Millie Reeves is an enjoyable match for him, putting a sort of aggressive cheerfulness into someone who has survived a suicide attempt and is working hard not to wind up back in that position. My favorite of the lot may be Noeleen Comiskey, who is able to make Eloise amusingly self-serving but not quite a sociopath - it is possible to find some genuine concern in her. I was kind of surprised to see Carol Cleveland still working - the former Monty Python regular doesn't have many screen appearances in the last twenty years - but she does well as David's mother. Sophie Aldred and Chase Masterson, whom the movie's target audience will likely remember from their roles on Doctor Who and Deep Space Nine, are quite entertaining in their roles.Their presence (along with several other folks best known for their sci-fi/fantasy credits), points to this being a self-indulgent fan film, and while it has moments like that, it's got a fair amount of ambition and people who know what they're doing on both sides of the camera. By the time it's finished, though, "The Search for Simon" has become heavier than it really should be, and that makes it hard to exit the theater in the state of mind that the filmmakers likely intended.
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