Home Video Hovel- Searching for Sonny, by Jack Fleischer
Searching For Sonny is a quirky comedy wearing the oversized coat of a film noir. Don’t go into this film for the noir aspects – it’s more of an affectation than a refined storytelling technique, yet it seems appropriate for this pop-culture patchwork flick. It’s the first feature from writer/director Andrew Disney, and it shows promise, and room for improvement.
Elliot Knight (Jason Dohring) is a young man living in New York. He’s soon to hit 30, depressed, and he decides to go to his 10-year high school reunion and apologize to an old friend that he had wronged. When he gets back to town he learns that this friend (the titular “Sonny”) is missing. Then there’s a murder, a lost love, and things just sort of unravel after that.
There are clear noir elements, but it’s obvious that the comedy is the primary focus, and much of the humor felt very hit or miss. A lot of the laughs come out various absurd and irrational actions. For example “Calvin Knight” (Nick Kocher) seems to have a blindingly inexplicable distrust of the Irish, a fact that is presented over and over again. While no explanation is given, I suppose none is necessarily required. Non sequiturs are often funny; I guess my issue is that they’re not always funny.
The odd thing is that although the humor is often random, the plot follows a pretty steady course, and it’s hard not to see where this film is ultimately headed. Characters believe what it’s necessary for them to believe in order for the plot to unfold, even if those events are inherently unbelievable. I don’t think unexpected twists and turns are necessary to make a movie successful, but it never hurts to surprise both your characters and the audience at the same time.
For good or ill, this movie comes across like a mash-up of Brick, The Big Lebowski, Grosse Pointe Blank, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang all seen through the eyes of Wes Anderson. Adding to this film’s pop culture soup are lead actors from Veronica Mars (Dohring), Heroes (Masi Oka), Battlestar Galactica (Michael Hogan), Friday Night Lights (Minka Kelly), and The Wire (Clarke Peters). I had a feeling that was confirmed in the special features interviews; this movie was designed by and for turn-of-the-century film/TV geeks.
While all of the above guys are fun to watch, most of the humor is left in the hands of Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher who are most well known as the comedy duo BriTANick. Sometimes they’re great, other times they miss the mark, but if you’re already a fan of their online work (which I am) this is an excellent place to catch more of them.
One area where this film shines on its own is its style. The flashbacks and transitions are often inspired. There are a number of scenes reminiscent of a high-school theater that adds to the film’s fun absurdist quality. Lighting, framing, and editing also come through at a high level.
Given that this is a DVD release, there are a number of special features including a few featurettes, outtakes and even a few Easter eggs. There’s also a commentary track from writer/director Disney and the film’s cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron. This commentary is not for the casual fan, and it highlights the fact that Searching for Sonny is absolutely made for and by film geeks.
The reality is that there isn’t much to this film. It isn’t heavy on drama or suspense, but it is fun. It’s a decent first effort, and is worth checking out.