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Florida Film Festival: Finding Neighbors

Blake Bashoff and Michael O'Keefe in Finding Neighbors.
Blake Bashoff and Michael O'Keefe in Finding Neighbors.
www.floridafilmfestival.com

Finding Neighbors

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
Star
Star

Finding Neighbors is a film that never quite lives up to its potential. I have a soft spot for independent film because I know how difficult it is to get a movie made, so I tend to be a bit forgiving. Finding Neighbors isn't a bad film by any stretch, though it does start with a fairly tired premise: the aging artist facing a crisis of self-doubt. It makes some creative use of animation and features some compelling performances, but despite a number of good scenes they never really add up to a convincing whole.

Michael O'Keefe stars as Sam, a writer of graphic novels whose previous success has faded, leaving him financially supported by his therapist wife Mary (Catherine Dent) and unable to make any substantial creative headway on his new project. He spends most of his time sitting listlessly around the house, occasionally sneaking glances at the nubile Sherrie (Julie Mond), who rents the cottage from Sam's neighbors, a couple named Jeff and Paul. Jeff (Blake Bashoff) and Sam form a tentative friendship that grows stronger as Sam and Mary seem to drift further apart.

Michael O'Keefe has worked steadily for years, but most viewers will remember him best as young Danny Noonan in Caddyshack. Despite his best efforts, Sam is not a very compelling protagonist, giving the audience very little reason to empathize with him. I find myself comparing Sam to the Jeff Daniels character in Paper Man, another indie that featured an artist suffering from writer's block. That previous film really showed us the soul of the tortured artist, whereas here we barely scratch the surface. Sean Patrick Thomas is virtually wasted as Jeff's partner Paul, though he does have one good scene. There are some decent moments between Jeff and Sam, though it is rather an easy contrivance that Sam's neighbor happens to be a huge fan and wrote his dissertation on his work.

Animation is used throughout the film as transition from scene to scene, and for the most part it works, and I was reminded a bit of American Splendor during those moments. I did find myself caring for the characters, particularly Catherine Dent's Mary, whose performance feels the most lived in, and who is absolutely sexy in a real, unglamorous way. Where the film suffers is in the dialogue; writer/director Ron Judkins is a little too on the nose at parts, particularly in an early scene between Jeff and Paul that feels absolutely contrived. The movie is trying to make a thematic point about love and connection with our fellow human beings, but it never really comes across in an effective way. Finding Neighbors didn't insult my intelligence or make me feel that I wasted my time, but it failed to make a lasting impression.

For information on screenings of this film and all the films at the festival, visit the official website here. And check out my other reviews from the festival here.