Crimes and Misdemeanors
One night, two teenagers, and 20-odd prosecutable offenses add up to all the 'Wrong Numbers'
The misadventures of Russell and James -- like run-ins with cops, abandonment on Sixth Street, an accidental tent revival -- can be whittled down to one sad, if familiar, refrain: They only wanted a beer. Is that such a crime? Well, yes, according to current drinking laws. That's bad for the two hapless 19-year-olds, cruising convenience stores and frat parties for a drop of the drink, but good for Wrong Numbers, the feature film debut from Austin transplant Alex Holdridge, in which Russell and James' residency on the other side of the law makes for wicked, foul-mouthed fun.
It's been a four-year journey for Wrong Numbers, from all-night shoots and maxed-out credit cards to a heralded premiere at the 2001 Austin Film Festival and now a one-night screening this Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. With no disrespect to its makers, the DV-shot indie is a case study in not only the little movie that could, but did, and in the process, might be very big indeed.
With a budget of barely $10,000, the 26-year-old writer/director filmed on the streets of Austin with an unpaid, openly collaborative cast and crew, many of whom were friends. Holdridge worked two jobs, even moved back home to his parents' house in Orange County, Calif., in order to save money and finish the edit. Prior to the fest, no one had seen the final cut. So who knew how the AFF audience would react to a film with an obviously scraped-knuckle budget, no-name actors, no plot beyond the everlasting quest of two young men to find beer? Holdridge had his suspicions: He figured they'd hate it, or be bored, or at best simply "politely chuckle and walk out the theatre."
But they didn't. They laughed loudly, and often. "We showed it, and people started laughing at the shitty jokes. I was like, 'Oh my God. Wait until the fucking bum pukes!'" The bum-puke scene is indeed a big laugh-getter. But Wrong Numbers elevates the easy gross-out and mundane premise to something more -- something very nearly poetic in its sympathetic nod to the frustrations of being at the threshold of adulthood, in the right place and time, but with all the wrong numbers on your ID.
And then came the mass hysteria. The studios came calling, the film won the AFF Audience Award, and Holdridge found a "champion" in screenwriter Jessica Bendinger (Bring It On, Sex and the City), who was in attendance that first night. Bendinger got her agent involved, then convinced production company Red Wagon to shepherd the film toward a bigger-budget remake.
The rest isn't history, yet, but it's getting there. Holdridge has spent the past few months taking meetings and reworking his script, inching it toward something more commercially viable, while still holding fast to the film's sometimes bittersweet anarchy. The suits want him to soften the language, of course, something Holdridge says is no big deal, as the four-letter words color his every sentence -- not in a filthy way, more like his mouth is moving so fast his brain uses the descriptives like pump-brakes, something to slow the wheels down a bit. But toning down the pot could be a problem. Though Wrong Numbers isn't an overtly political film, it does rest squarely on an American irony: These boys are denied a simple six-pack, but at every turn there's somebody offering them a joint, some pills. This is when Holdridge starts to get very worked up, about the waste of manpower and money, about cops forced to "sit outside a convenience store and mess with some kid who wants have a fucking beer so he can fucking kiss some girl ... It's so stupid, it drives me crazy."
And if doesn't work out? The script isn't approved? No studio takes the bite? At least there are distractions. Holdridge starts shooting his next film, Our Merry Life, "a bleak romantic comedy about what our generation thinks about marriage," in July. There's also that Alamo screening this weekend. No doubt it'll still be hell on Holdridge's nerves, watching and waiting to see if the audience will connect. He'll just have to be patient. Wait until the bum pukes -- it gets them every time.
Wrong Numbers screens this Sunday, April 28, at 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado). Tickets cost $6; $4.50/students. For more info, visit www.americanstupidity.com or www.drafthouse.com.