2002, NR, 75 min. Directed by Alex Holdridge. Starring Scoot McNairy, Kierstin Cunnington, Matt Pulliam, Matt Bearden.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., June 7, 2002
The humble brewski, a simple blend of water, toasted grain, and hops that enthusiasts chug by the half-dozen, assumes grail-like import for bored 19-year-olds James and Russell in Alex Holdridge's engaging, sneakily poignant comedy. Proudly flaunting its low-budget pedigree (Holdridge shot it in Austin for about 10 grand in glove-box change) and featuring a spare plot that makes Waiting for Godot look like Chinatown by comparison, the Austin Film Festival prizewinner Wrong Numbers still manages to get a lot said about the human condition. Or, more specifically, the condition of male humans on the cusp of adulthood. Like many their age, Russell (McNairy) and James (Bearden) suffer the special pain that comes from possessing infinite appetite and capacity for experiences they're denied by adult society. In this case, the unattainable object of desire is a 12-pack of cheap suds that they spend an epic night of frustration trying to score. The genius of Holdridge's story is the high comic drama he's able to build and sustain as his hapless characters cruise the streets of Austin, tormented by cops, Argus-eyed cashiers (“I don't care if you're 72 years old; I still need to see some I.D.”) and unwanted hangers-on. The dudely hijinks, liberally spiced with the inevitable -- though often uproarious -- grossout humor and profanity, is nicely counterbalanced by emotionally spot-on evocations of romantic angst and vulnerability. In fact, the last half of the film subtly shifts its narrative focus from the ongoing brew quest to Russell's anxiety over his girlfriend Jennifer (Cunningham), who may or may not be cuckolding him with a silver-tongued fratboy devil. Like 1999's Rock Opera, by fellow local director Bob Ray, Holdridge's film manages to display the full toolkit of moviemaking talent in a bare-basics context that hints at large reservoirs of untapped ability. With its cleverly written script, imaginative camera work, well-selected cast of gifted unknowns and, most importantly, its rich and evocative sense of human empathy Wrong Numbers offers new hope to those who look to indie film for art that delivers the stuff of life with a bare minimum of ersatz flavors and coloring. (For related feature see "Crimes and Misdemeanors," April 26.)