Forest for the Trees
This locally filmed and produced movie--written, directed, produced, and edited by born-and-bred Marylander Jonathan Slade--is an indie film in the most classic sense. Slade spent three years and maxed out two credit cards to produce his feature-length film debut using an all-volunteer cast and crew; even his mother pitched in.
And Forest for the Trees is a valiant effort, a sincere and occasionally insightful exploration of love, friendship, and (in)fidelity. The story opens with four college buddies reuniting for a five-day bicycling trip, taking along one adult newcomer to the group and a small child. With the possible exception of mother and child, everyone on the expedition is having relationship difficulties. This psychodrama on wheels also encounters trouble with rain, claustrophobia, and a lost doll named Foofie.
Despite the fact that most of the dramatic action is emotional rather than physical, the film is well-paced and allows the story to unfold naturally; unlike many big-budget Hollywood pictures, Forest for the Trees does not telegraph its ending from the very first scene. Characters are for the most part sympathetic and believable, especially Zach, the de facto group leader. Played by Patrick Egan, Zach is frequently abrasive, abusive, and assholish--but his redemption is that he knows it, and he struggles with that knowledge. Egan gives the film's strongest and most consistent performance; with his pronounced Bawlmer accent and angular, interesting face, he brings to mind a young John Waters.
Forest for the Trees is not without problems, a great many of which can be attributed to the project's low-budget, first-time-out nature. The acting is uneven and occasionally amateurish, and in some scenes the dialogue drags awkwardly, as if the actors are unsuccessfully improvising. The sound quality is sometimes frustratingly muddy and quiet, and at other times too blaringly loud. And parts of one pivotal scene, a confrontation between key characters, are so terribly backlit that it's difficult to discern what's happening.
But these lapses are forgivable. The important thing is that Forest for the Trees is an engaging and ambitiously realized debut by a local filmmaker. It's worth seeing.