Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? Seen as part of MIFF 2020, via their digital platform.
In a cruddy Vegas neighbourhood, it’s the last night for ‘The Roaring 20s’, a cocktail bar that is a second home (and even a first one) for a loose collection of local souls. The owner is selling up, and the regulars plan to send it out in style; an all night party where they’ll drink as long, and as hard, as they can.
And that’s it. Of all of the new film’s I’ve seen this year, this one probably has the slightest plot. Which is not to say there is no depth, but that the setup is simple; this film is not a narrative, it is a snapshot of a set of characters, and their environment. Shot in doco-drama style, with hand held cameras right in the middle of the action, this is like hanging out with a bunch of rowdy new friends. Everyone you see is an actor, but none of it is scripted. The result is collage like; a mixture of commotion and quiet, boisterous group scenes and poignant individual moments. It is reminiscent of classic Altman, only confined to one small set.
The directors, Bill and Turner Ross, have used this approach in a string of low budget indy’s, that have garnered critical acclaim. In an interview, they stated that their intention with this film was to try and capture something fundamental about America; the messy, free-wheeling dynamic that they love about the country, where individualism is championed. The characters in this film are beholden to no one, and have found a venue where they can express their views and be themselves, even when they disagree. It is a an optimistic view of American democracy, in motion.
Here the film finds a parallel with the present day; it is set during the 2016 election, the coverage of which plays out in the background on television. The brutal nature of actual political combat in the US, which we are about to witness again, is nicely contrasted with the friendly environment of the bar. There are other parallels as well. With Covid lockdown and economic uncertainty, people in the US (and elsewhere) are worried about the future. Much like the characters in this movie, many of us are grappling with a sense of loss; the character’s are losing their bar, while the rest of us are trying to cope with an endless series of restrictions.
The large cast mostly work wonders with their improvised parts (only one I found to be annoying). My favourites were the ageing homeless man who lives on the bar’s couch; the no nonsense waitress whose delinquent son is getting drunk in the back alleyway; and the bearded jerk, wearing the film’s only tie, whose commemorative farewell speech for the venue is a drunken, hilarious mess.
The film picks up momentum as it progresses. The characters seem abrasive at first, but they grow on you; by the time it is over, you are sorry to see them go. There are some lovely grace notes as night turns to day, and everyone wanders off to…. wherever they go, when the bar is shut. A few of them sit on a oil pipeline and watch the sun rise; one of them goes to a diner and orders a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast. Change has been forced on them, but life will go on.
A strangely hopeful ending, to an atypical film. Not about a bunch of deadbeat drunks, but about all of us.