The Austin Chronicle

In Stereo

Not rated, 97 min. Directed by Mel Rodriguez III. Starring Micah Hauptman, Beau Garrett, Melissa Bolona, Kieran Campion, Mario Cantone, Maggie Geha, Sean Cullen, Aimee Mullins.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 3, 2015

A successful white male artist with girl problems and self-worth issues: When this stereotype masquerades as a storyline, it needs to have a unique spin or radical narrative disruption for it to stand out from all the other self-made movies about white male artists with girl problems and self-worth issues. In Stereo is not the movie that stands out from the rest.

Writer/director Mel Rodriguez III’s feature debut expands on a short film he made in 2009. After moving to Los Angeles, the former Austin resident found commercial success directing ads and music videos, skills and connections he put to good use in making In Stereo, which looks good and is blanketed in music from beginning to end. Yet the story rings hollow, and its shallow characters never earn our compassion or interest.

David (Hauptman) is a photographer whose one-man gallery show is about to open (although it’s not as though we see more than a glimpse of him ever working on his photos). He’s got other problems. We know this because the opening scene takes place in his shrink’s office. David has just discovered that his significantly younger girlfriend Jennifer (Bolona) is screwing his best friend Chris (Campion), an indolent trust-fund guy. On the street, just before his appointment, David runs into his ex-girlfriend Brenda (Garrett), a high-strung actress whom he broke up with because he couldn’t commit. (Disturbingly, these two women also look a lot alike.) Despite Rodriguez’s inclusion of some shifting timelines and an ambiguous ending, we can all see where this story is headed.

If it sounds like I’m picking on artistic white guys, I’m sorry; that’s not my intent. Had In Stereo made me believe in the character of David as a real person rather than a narcissistic construct, I’d be more charitably inclined toward the film. Rodriguez reminds me of the filmmaker Eric Shaeffer, who has been called a “poor man’s Woody Allen” because he makes semi-autobiographical, New Yorkcentric films that, like Allen’s, focus on a man’s search for love, meaning, and stunning women – but Shaeffer’s lack the Woodman’s wit and self-awareness. And that’s more or less the problem with In Stereo. There’s no reverb.

See “A Novel Approach,” July 3, for an interview with the filmmaker.

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