Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ins and Outs of "Around"

“The most important part in telling any story is knowing where to start.”

That line, spoken at the beginning of David Spaltro’s new film, Around, could well turn out to be prophetic, especially if he can match the unique qualities of this, his initial professional cinematic venture.

I say professional as Spaltro made films during his time at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. This four years of his life is the basis of Around and it takes us on an unusual journey, as the principal character Doyle Simms (Rob Evans), shares his uncertainties of a Jersey City boy going to the Big Apple to pursue his dream. Simms is of course, Spaltro to a certain degree (it’s essentially autobiographical) and though we follow his experiences at film school, much of the movie deals with his relationships, both with his friends he grew up with as well as the collection of characters he meets in the city.

What I like about the film is the honesty we feel as Simms deals with the trials of his new life. He doesn’t have much money, which results in him sleeping in train stations (mostly Grand Central) and taking some pretty menial jobs to make some basic wages. At a dump of a resturant he works at, he sees a beautiful young woman, Allyson Lodeir (Molly Ryman) whom he had previously seen posing nude at a drawing class at school. Allyson thought Doyle was there for less than honorable reasons, but when she sees that he can draw, she asks for forgiveness. He’s smitten, but she plays hard to get. It’s only when he stands up for her face to face with a tough guy she’s dating that she starts to give him the time of day.

This part of his life starts to go well for Doyle and soon, he’s getting her some photo shoots. But he can’t enjoy any success too much, which is the main angle Spaltro examines in the film. His parents divorced when he was nine and after all these years, he doesn’t exactly have a loving relationship with his mother. When she becomes seriously ill, he starts to question his role in life.

This subplot may sound like a thousand different movies from the past, but in Spaltro’s hands – he wrote and directed the film – it comes off as fresh and a bit quirky. I like the way he writes, as this is the way people really talk. It’s not overstylized for the movie audience, nor is it everyday dull speak. Getting the right mix is not easy and I have to credit Spaltro with keeping things original.

His direction is also quite good, especially for a first-timer. Things are handled pretty straightforwardly, with only a few oblique angles and the pacing, except for a few brief moments, is nicely releaxed. He elicits two very fine performances, from Evans and Ryman, the two main characters. Evans is very convincing, especially in scenes where he’s just not sure what road he’s on; Ryman is also quite good and has an ease and charisma that works well for her character. They’re both totally believable in their parts.

(Photo courtesy of David Spaltro)

The photography is sharp and quite attractive, though at times it seems almost too pretty, considering some of the locales (train stations and city streets) this picture features. Still, Spaltro puts his camera in the right location most of the time and avoids the artsiness too often seen in many first features.

Some viewers might have a problem with Doyle’s self pity during the second half of this film; I have to admit that I didn’t think his life was that bad. But this is Spaltro’s life for better of for worse and as he lived it, we have to believe it. I would have liked to see a few more scenes about his film school life and his attempts at movie making. We get one such short scene and then we see his final effort in school, which will determine if he graduates; this latter scene is very well done. I guess Spaltro decided that his experiences outside of school would be more interesting for the audience to watch than film making sequences and based on the assortment of characters he meets (from a homeless man he befriends at the train station to a sensual young Indian woman he meets one night), he’s probably right.

This slice of life is very entertaining and best of all, unpredictable. You think Doyle will end up one way or the other, but he takes his own path, one that many of us might not. The world Spaltro presents is a pretty nice one; once people get to know you, they put their trust in you, he seems to be saying. Doyle has a hard time realizing this, which is the conflict that makes Around so intriguing.

Note: Around had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in September 2008. It is now available on the “videos on demand” section at, which is where I viewed it.

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