October 16, 2011

Movie Review: Archie's Final Project

When people asked me what movies I saw recently, I would invariably come to this movie on the list and their eyes would kind of glaze over and give me a look as if I had two heads. I would then go on to say it was about a high school kid who also made movies and that his final project for his media class was going to be his suicide. At this point the look in their face would twist up a little more and they would say something like "Oh, never heard of that one. Why would you want to watch that?" or some other sort of slightly dismissive aside. It is not that they aren't interested, but they don't know they are interested. It is an interesting state that comes from being fed too much recycled Hollywood fare. Not that all indies are great, but there are a lot of good ones.

Archie's Final Project has long been in the process of being finished. Principal photography finished way back in 2009, but it is only making it into any sort of release until now. It made the festival circuit under the name My Suicide, which may be a more provocative title, but it is also one that would make it even more difficult to market. Think about it, can you see movie marquees with My Suicide listed and seeing people lining up to see it? No, probably not. Then again, there was scarcely a handful in the theater when I saw it.

Archie Williams (co-screenwriter/co-editor Gabriel Sunday) is a movie geek and amateur filmmaker who films a lot of what happens in his life from an inventive series of cameras that he can carry around with him, not to mention the rig he has setup around his room. Besides these clear facts, he is also a rather angsty seventeen-year old, a member of the disenfranchised youth who feels ignored by his family and an outsider amongst his peers. This leads to the subject of the film. His media teacher asks the students what their final project is going to be and Archie answers that he is going to commit suicide on camera.

This revelation does not sit well with the school or his parents. A serious of mental health professionals descend upon him like locusts trying different ways of helping him. So far as Archie is concerned, the idea of "suicide being  permanent solution to a temporary problem" is a joke to be mocked. It may sound like a trite statement, but it is true. In any case, Archie is still filming everything, from his mundane reasoning for wanting to kill himself, to fellow students egging him on, to the sessions with mental health workers (including a great bit at a psych ward with Archie tormenting a counselor played by Tony Hale).

His building desire to kill himself, and the fact that everyone now knows this, draws the attention of Archie's dream girl, Sierra Silver (Brooke Nevin). It turns out that she has a dark side and is on a similar wavelength to Archie. She too wants to kill herself. They also share a fascination with an a poet and underground filmmaker named Vargas (David Carradine), who brings some other interesting takes on the ideas of death.

Archie's Final Project is an effective and moving piece of accessible yet experimental cinema that could be a siren call to legions of disenfranchised youth. It is a very dark film that went places I was not expecting. Frankly, I do not think I was expecting this movie to be anything like it was. Of course, I did not know what to expect. It is a movie that got to me, and by the looks of it, other people in the theater as there were a couple of walkouts and a few others who left in tears when the credits rolled.

This really is an interesting film, it tackles familiar issues from a different angle. It tackles a topic in a fashion that makes it fresh, thought provoking, and will sit with you when you leave the theater. More than just the issues it deals with, it is the manner in which it is displayed. Writer/Director David Lee Miller brings a lot of style to the film. There is a mixed media approach that puts Archie front and center as he addresses his camera, uses stock footage, animation, and other techniques to help drive the story home. It is stylish and experimental without ever being inaccessible.

Archie's Final Project speaks to a lot of things. It is a successful movie that is not likely to find the audience it deserves. While it might sputter a little towards the end, it never completely runs out of steam or ways to get inside your head. It is a a surprising work that manages to make its point without becoming cloying or preachy. This is not an easy task when talking about angst and suicide. It also doesn't hurt that the performances are good and Gabriel Sunday does a great job to center the film and lead us through.

Effective, different, and well worth the effort. Archie's Final Project takes us on a ride into the mind of the modern media saturated youth in a rather strong portrait of the sort of disenfranchisement that should be able to be avoided. I blame it on the deterioration of actual communication as dictated by modern media and technological advances (not that they are a bad thing, but this is still the first generation to have them at this level).

Highly Recommended.

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