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2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Ocean Front Property
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Funny, Charming, Touching Surprise"
4 stars

After having recently suffered through a slew of undisciplined, untalented crap from highly dubious first-time directors, along comes a wonderful entertainment that you can actually respect in the morning. Hoo-ah!

At the beginning of the outstanding Ocean Front Property, a twentysomething man stands in the water right off the ocean shore one night contemplating suicide, to continue into the depths to drown out the quintessential misery he finds engulfing him like a straitjacket. The man in question, Rick (played by Joe Scott, sounding uncannily like Eric Stoltz), has had a rather tough time of it as of late, and once we become privy to his emotional turmoil up to this point, his proposed course of action has dramatic validity to it. As well as the film's protagonist, Rick also serves as its voice-over narrator; during his drunken stupor in the water, he asks, "Jeez, how did I get here?", and the story flashes back a few days to let us in on the details. Unlike Sunset Blvd., which began with its dead protagonist narrating his own story, Ocean Front Property begins not with a man who's dead, but a man who's tried his best to be dead inside -- to live without living, in a sense. After an almost-five-year relationship with love-of-his-life Valerie (Lizzie Lander) abruptly ended with her leaving Rick a month before their wedding for an American named Pierre (Thad Newton), whom she's been married to for a year now. Ever since, Rick's life has been in the toilet: depressed, and with a sense of worth hovering around zero, he's lost his career, a close family member, and any semblance of motivating drive. As an attempt at reprieve, he takes up an offer from Valerie's parents (who still adore him) to stay in their beach house in Galveston, Texas; accompanying him are his two best friends, Stan (John Frazier) and Jordan (Erin McGrew), who're married and at odds as to whether they should have a baby. But a monkey wrench gets thrown into the equation: Valerie and Pierre show up, thinking they were to have the place to themselves. It soon becomes obvious to all that the parents have set this up as a last-ditch effort to get their daughter and Rick back together.

While at first we might find Rick's agreeing to stay a week under the same roof of his ex-fiancee and her stud of a husband a contrivance in order to allow the story to progress, his reason for doing so is made plausible: he wants to make Valerie privy to "the consequences of her actions", as he puts it. Thankfully, rather than quickly devolving into a series of endless shouting matches and going-for-the-Oscar emoting, the film plays out exceedingly well as a character-oriented and -driven comedy/drama; it's much more interested in exploring emotional truths than exploiting emotional degradation, with the latter almost always the preferred course partaken by filmmakers dedicated to pandering to audiences with fifteen-second attention spans and popcorn-munching sensibilities. And the characters, who could have given way to easy-to-read stereotyping, come through with varying degrees of interest and depth. In most films, Pierre would've been conceived as nothing other than a one-dimensional slice of testosterone-fueled beef, as a convenient antagonist for Rick; instead, we come to regard him as an amiable, thoughtful sort who isn't oblivious that he's not enamored by Valerie's parents and has had a tough act to follow in the footsteps of Rick, who was, by and large, a much more adventuresome and lively suitor. When Rick and Pierre converse between themselves, there are smidgens of tension and discomfort; yet when they get past the initial minute or two of this, they're surprised to find each other good company. There's a wonderful scene on the beach where the tan, lanky Pierre instructs the pale, slouch-postured Rick how to engage in conversation with women, and an even more wonderful one later where Pierre discovers from Rick that Valerie only pretends to like the same things Pierre does -- she did the same thing with Rick; due to her lack of confidence in defining herself, she has thus destroyed Pierre's allusion that they're soul mates.

It's incisively telling moments like these that remind you you're in the more-than-capable hands of a filmmaker who respects his characters, as if he were discovering things about them as the script were being written and even while the film were being shot. Not only serving as the film's star, but its writer and director as well, Joe Scott has an ear for good, loose dialogue and incorporating it into scenes with acute dramatic shaping; he doesn't construct a scene for the sole benefit of an emotional payoff, and he's willing to let it play out and end without missing the dramatic crux of it yet also without italicizing it. There's a freewheeling rhythm to the assured narrative that doesn't bog itself down in the kind of overly serious art-consciousness that plagued John Cassavetes' work in Faces and Husbands; Scott's film is more in tune with Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, though it lacks the powerful performances of the former and jazzy unpredictability of the latter (as well as the cutting-to-the-bone profane honesty of David Burton Morris' Patti Rocks). What's refreshing is Scott's respect for film aesthetics, which is like a breath of fresh air in an age when cheap digital equipment has enabled many an aspiring director to make a film without regard for composition and structure. There are lovely shots of the beach with the sun perfectly framed within, but some of Scott's best talent shines through in the shooting of dialogue scenes, which are kept visually interesting through good juxtaposing and camera placement sans anything of the nauseous Look Ma/I'm directing variety. There's a particularly good one-shot where Pierre tries to ease his way into his first conversation with Rick, and half the scene has Pierre talking but seen only through the reflection of a door's glass pane, then he moves slightly so he's reflected through the second pane, and then away and unseen completely and still talking, until he settles into the chair next to Rick -- all of which manage to visually convey the emotional distance and gradual thawing of uneasiness between the two characters.

Oh, there are some quibbles you can't help but take notice of. When Rick is reminded of Valerie during the first minutes in the beach house, and there's a cutaway to shots of six-packs and a bottle of Bacardi punctuating his line "I know how to handle this", it's amusing; but some other cutaway gag shots are turgid -- urinating in the sand after the mention of a "pissing contest" pertaining to Rick and Valerie, and water hosed through patio boards right after we see Rick vomiting. Perhaps a shot of a blue bottle on the beach in the foreground and Rick and Pierre in the background doesn't serve any real visual purpose and is the only one that unduly calls attention to itself. The cutting back and forth between dialogue during two ongoing scenes where Stan and Jordan discuss their domestic trouble with another person is going along fine until Scott tries to get fancy in having Jordan finish Stan's sentence, and the effort behind it becomes too evident. The introduction of a voluptuous, ready-for-action teenage blonde (Eryn Brooke) as a sexual temptation for Rick is admirable for endowing this beauty with brains and words of wisdom, but she still comes off as extraneous -- you feel she was thrown into the mix to tantalize the T&A crowd (along with this film's potential distributors) even though she never sheds her dental-floss of a bikini. And Pierre just happening to walk into a room while two characters are kissing is a cliched groaner. But the only considerable flaw is the failure to explain Valerie's reason for leaving Rick. Having this go unsaid isn't by itself detrimental, but when Rick and Pierre are openly explaining themselves, this doesn't quite gel, and thus sticks out. The closest she comes is admitting she was scared of what she was turning into, but we never find out what this in fact was. It also doesn't help that, as Valerie, Lander gives a fairly uncommunicative performance (though this also extends to Stan's portrayer, Frazier, who doesn't listen very well as an actor -- he always seems to be waiting for his co-star's last line to be over so he can speak).

Still, Ocean Front Property, while occasionally problematic, is so good for so much of the time that even its failure to fully realize the Valerie character doesn't detract from it the way it would in a lesser film. While it doesn't profusely bleed with raw, undiluted emotion like Mazursky's early work (or even his latest, mediocre one, Coast to Coast, where Fred Ward does a galvanizing, show-stopping turn as Judy Davis' seething-with-jealousy/resentment ex-lover), it's uncommonly perceptive as to human idiosyncracies and behavior in complex situations. Yet it isn't done in the solemnly joyless Cassavetes vein of the characters wearing their emotions on both sleeves and insufferably self-aggrandizing until your patience runs thin. The film is alive both emotionally and visually, with Scott having enough confidence in his dialogue and characters to carry the dramatic weight without throwing in big meanings and the like to spruce things up; only a filmmaker who truly believed in his material would dare employ a line like "There's something wrong in the world, Stan -- it doesn't work right." and bring it off successfully. It also helps that, as Rick, Scott gives a marvelous, instinctive performance, with an alert reserve that keeps the character from venturing into crybaby territory; he manages to suggest that Rick's self-awareness is both detrimental because it refuses to fully insulate him from emotional pain no matter the effort put forth to shut it out, and beneficial because it gives him the insight to spot other people's problems and the ability to offer solutions to help alleviate them. Throw in a charming music score by The Glengarry Bhoys and oodles of big laughs, and you have yourself "A Slice of Life by Joe Scott" (which the opening credits read, as opposed to the typical "A Film by...") that'll make you want to see this with someone you love -- and with someone who loves movies, too, of course.

Hopefully, we're be hearing from Joe Scott again. As an actor, writer and director, he's definitely got the right stuff.

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originally posted: 11/08/04 23:51:19
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User Comments

12/17/04 Christopher Ripley Great scriptwriting. Really funny. With the right amount of funding, a real winner. 4 stars
12/16/04 Trudy Matus I loved the film. Although I was put off at first that it didn't have that "slick look" 5 stars
12/15/04 Rosie Stone Super film! Anyone who's ever been dumped can identify. See it if you can. 5 stars
12/03/04 Kevin Fish This movie is fantastic. It has the very good balance of realism and humor. Check it out! 5 stars
12/02/04 Casidhe Meriwether A great film for a first time filmmaker. Good mix of humor and touching moments. 5 stars
11/22/04 Loita Cottle This film has depth, humor, compassion, and great music. Wonderful first film! 5 stars
11/21/04 Gary Kennamer This movie is terrific. Words aren't enough to do it justice. See it! 5 stars
11/21/04 Patrick Moore The caracters are genuine. The dialogue is right on. I was touched. You will be, too. 5 stars
11/09/04 Bart Crow I really enjoyed it aand found Lucy and not TA but am ol soul who is stuck beyond her cont 4 stars
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  12-Jan-2004 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Dec-2006



Directed by
  Joe Scott

Written by
  Joe Scott

  Joe Scott
  Eryn Brooke
  John Frazier
  Lizzie Lander
  Erin McGrew
  Thad Newton

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