As part of its continuing coverage of the 20th annual deadCenter Film Festival, Oklahoma City Free Press will feature three films from the festival each day: a feature-length narrative film, a short film and a documentary.
Today’s roundup focuses on director Scott Dow’s sharp teen comedy Breaking Them Up, Gina Marie Foxhoven’s EXI[S]T and Mike Plante’s Wyatt Earp documentary, And With Him Came the West.
by George Lang, Free Press film critic
Breaking Them Up. Director Scott Dow and writer Dev Wadhwa’s comedy Breaking Them Up brings the wit in a thoroughly engaging story about a teenager actively trying to get his parents to separate. It is filled with sharply written characters and performances and is, without question, one of the best features of the festival.
Damian Cross (Jakob Wedel) absolutely loves his parents, but he does not love them together. Laurie (Kelen Coleman, Big Little Lies) is an ambitious fitness freak and her husband Phil (Stephen Schneider) is an indecisive underachiever, and most of their time together is spent bickering, which drives Damian bonkers. So, he and best friend Erin (Tess Aubert) hatch a plan to drive them apart, using their school’s beautiful drama teacher (Tiffany Feese) and a chronically vaping SCUBA instructor (Skip Schwink) as bait.
Not enough can be said about both Wadhwa’s script and how it is delivered. Comedy is hard, but Wadhwa creates a group of characters, from Damian and Erin all the way down to bit players, who are distinctive and have their own unique views on life, making it all look so easy. For his part, Dow keeps things moving briskly, often panning between characters to extend the energy.
Of all the actors, Aubert is the absolute standout, taking what is often a stock character — the best friend who wants to be more than that — and giving her a life, intellect and distinctive sense of humor. While the ending is more somber than expected, Breaking Them Up is a fast-paced comedy that will undoubtedly be the future calling card for both Dow and Wadhwa — they should make many more films like this one.
EXI[S]T. Choreographed by Brad Hill and directed by Gina Marie Foxhoven, EXI[S]T follows dancer Audrey Johnston through a nonlinear life cycle, including live burial, demonic pursuit and a kind of self-baptism/death in the waters of Lake Hefner. As an experimental dance film, EXI[S]T recalls David Fincher’s music video work in the 1990s — primal, textured and occasionally horrific.
While its narrative is not always clear, EXI[S]T excels in creating memorable imagery, and Johnston’s dance through dirt, water and a seemingly infinite array of doors is always graceful throughout the chaos.
And With Him Came the West. Depictions of the American West have evolved from the white hat/black hat horse operas of early Hollywood to the grimy, rough-hewn and Shakespearean Deadwood. Wyatt Earp, the legendary sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona in the 1880s, is responsible for much of what became the cinematic West.
And With Him Came the West, a fascinating documentary on Earp’s self-mythologizing after the 1881 OK Corral gunfight in Tombstone, is both a loving study of the Western film genre and an effort to set Earp’s story straight. Director Mike Plante depicts how Earp, in his old age, helped inform Hollywood’s idea of the frontier.
This is helpful, considering that historical figures of the American West are often figuratively encased in amber, forever tied to dusty saloons illuminated by oil lanterns. In Earp’s case, the defining moment of his life, the gunfight in which he, his brothers Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday killed outlaws Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury, happened when he was 33 years old. He would live nearly five more decades, well into the age of electricity and automobiles, and his fortunes and reputation took several turns.
In a fascinating sequence, Plante shows how Tombstone modernized in the 20th century, looking much like any other small Arizona town. Then, by mid-century, its economy became intrinsically tied to Earp’s legacy, and so Tombstone put the swinging doors back on its saloons and became a tourist attraction complete with actors performing daily reenactments of the gunfight.
Earp spent most of his remaining years on the coast, where he notoriously worked as a boxing referee and shuttled between mining work and living in various apartments in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, where he died in 1929.
Those last years were spent selling his story to Hollywood, presenting schematics of the gunfight to film producers, and while there was only one silent film that briefly depicted him in his lifetime, his consulting work in films burnished his reputation and mythologized the West.
And With Him Came the West spends a little too much time on peripheral stories, but it does much to explain how Earp sold the West to Hollywood.
View our other coverage of the festival and deadCenter Roundups HERE.
The 20th annual deadCenter Film Festival can be experienced piecemeal or through a full-access plan. Patrons can enjoy one film for $10 or get the $100 festival pass. Donor level passes are $2,500. Visit deadcenterfilm.org
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