The Austin Chronicle

A Matter of Degrees

Rated R. Directed by W.T. Morgan. Starring Arye Gross, Judith Hoag, Tom Sizemore.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 13, 1991

Perrhaps it's just me, but it seems as though there's some sort of new wave sweeping through American independent filmmaking. Small, no-to-low budget films such as Three Bewildered People in the Night, The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, and yes, even Austin's own Slacker are proving that you don't need millions of dollars and “name” actors to create a compelling (or at least marginally interesting) film. A Matter of Degrees, directed by W.T. Morgan (X -- The Unheard Music), continues mining this same vein of early-90s, twenty-something angst, though Morgan is less of a cynic than many of his indie contemporaries. …Degrees gives us Max (Gross), an idealistic college student in Providence, Rhode Island. On the verge of graduation -- and utterly unsure that he wants to pursue Columbia law school as his parents wish -- Max is a startlingly accurate composite of many of today's collegiate youth. Like so many students here in Austin, Max dreams of campus life in the sixties, a time (he believes) when people's values, hopes and dreams were clear-cut and obvious. Gross plays Max as a sort of Charlie Brown for the nineties: he's a wishy-washy, confused bumbler, but his heart is always in the right place. Orbiting Max are his three closest friends, Kate, Zeno and Welles, who support him during his frequent bouts of indecisiveness. Surrounding all four friends and serving as a sort of linking device is WXOX, the volatile campus radio station headed by ex-X member John Doe. Morgan uses scenes of daily WXOX broadcasts in a similar way to Spike Lee's use of the neighborhood station in Do the Right Thing, only far more effectively. In this world, the radio station is more the heart of the collegiate scene, and less of a bystanding witness to events. …Degrees fluently echos the myriad troubles of the 18-29 generation; it's not so much that these people don't have anything to look forward to, it's just that they're not really sure what it is. I can see many of my college-age friends (and a bit of myself) in these characters, and that's no mean feat for a filmmaker to pull off. Even if this doesn't sound entirely like your cup of Joe, it's worth it all to see John Kennedy Jr. in a cameo as a wheedling, horny party-goer. “Rock and roll can save you?” Maybe. Just maybe.

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