Skills Like This
Directed by Monty Miranda. Starring Spencer Berger, Gabriel Tigerman, Brian D. Phelan, Kerry Knuppe, Ned Bellamy. (2009, NR, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 17, 2009
The most memorable thing about SXSW Film Festival 07 Audience Award-winner, Skills Like This, is Berger's faux ’fro, which at times threatens to divert viewer attention from the film's near-threadbare plot. It almost works, too, though ultimately this visually splendid but sluggish story of a twentysomething would-be writer and his impulsive, overnight career as a bank and convenience-store robber takes the money and runs nowhere. Filmed in Denver, Skills Like This feels like it should have come out a little over a decade ago. Its Bottle Rocket-esque trio of insecure males (or over-secure, in the case of Phelan's jockish character, Tommy) is adrift, all in their own ways, but, perhaps unavoidably, all are reminiscent of future "plastics" investor Benjamin Braddock, of Mike Nichols' unsurpassable The Graduate. Actually, Berger's protagonist – Max, whose Odets-y debut play is so contrived it might as well be called Awake and Yawn! – is the cerebral, Afroed equivalent of Benjamin B.; co-star Tigerman, as Max's straitlaced pal, Dave, has far less to do than either the aggressively hilarious Phelan or Berger (who also wrote the screenplay). Crushed by his critical panning, Max opts out of the writing life and, on a whim, robs the bank across the street and meets cute with Knuppe's teller Lucy while pointing a gun to his own head. That's a novel twist, but it's more or less alone in a film that has oodles of heart but no real beat (apart from a pop-savvy soundtrack that features the Wedding Present among other heartachey hitmakers). Director Miranda and cinematographer Robert F. Smith give the whole thing a smart, polished sheen – Skills Like This looks snappier than it actually is – and Berger's bookish, emotionally constipated Max is a great template, but not so much a great character. Still, every generation deserves its own coming-of-age cinematic snapshot; if this is that, though, things are tougher than I thought.