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Coat Room, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"'Clerks' in an art museum? Sure, why not?"
3 stars

Everybody knows I'll give a "Philly" movie a break, and indie filmmaker Jason Gilbert must have caught wind of this chink in my critical armor, because the guy sent me not one but TWO separate screener discs in the hopes of getting a review out there. (The first disc was destroyed in a flood; don't even ask.) And since the only thing I dig more than my beloved City of Brotherly Love is an indie filmmaker desperately hoping to entertain some people, Mr. Gilbert is doubly fortunate. That's not to say that the rough-edged and exceedingly low-budget "Coat Room" is a grass-roots sensation just waiting to take the movie world by storm -- but for what it is (sort of a drier and somewhat more languid version of "Clerks"), the flick entertains well enough.

The website for The Coat Room showcases more than a dozen rejection letters from smaller film festivals all over North America, which is kind of a shame; I go to lots of film festivals and see movies that are a helluva lot less entertaining than The Coat Room is. But it's a fairly familiar and chat-laden affair with very little flash, pizazz, or notable "selling points," plus (and this is my biggest complaint by far) the movie needs another few trips to the editing booth. (Certain talk-free scenes feel tailor-made to showcase the music by screenwriter/composer Patrick Carrico, and the tunes are quite cool, but these moments often grind the movie to a halt.)

Having ground Mr. Gilbert's heart into the dirt just a little, I'm now happy to admit that much of The Coat Room is quite enjoyable.

The setting is the vaunted Philadelphia Art Museum, and our characters are a bunch of sarcastic, opportunistic, and generally snarky young employees. Our hero is a go-nowhere schlub named James, a guy stuck in a rut with a dreary routine and a terribly boring love life. At his first day on the job at the museum, James meets up with the colorful cast of cronies, a few sticklery administrators, and a seemingly unending supply of annoying patrons.

Most of the featured cast members do a bang-up job, and it's obvious that those involved have a vested interest in the flick. Each performer gets a few stand-out scenes, monologues, or comedic set-pieces. (My favorite is a random rant from one loon who just rambles on about everything he hates, including Egyptology, diamonds, and Spielberg.) Indeed, The Coat Room is at its best when its focusing on the funny; the angsty stuff gets a little cumbersome after a while.

As James, the multi-hatted Patrick Carrico does some fine work, although he wisely allows the razor-sharp and enjoyably angry Claire Bromwell to steal several scenes of her own. As the aforementioned hate-filled whiner, Chris Keener earns a bunch of strong chuckles. The rest of the cast members pop up to deliver their diatribes and tennis-volley ravings with pluck and vigor.

So as my bi-annual service to a local filmmaker who deserves enough success to get a shot at a second feature, I'll confess to enjoying easily 75% of The Coat Room; the other 25% is what the filmmaker himself describes as artsy and fairly masturbatory. And I can't say that I'd disagree. Several scenes simply run on a whole lot longer than they logically need to, and when this occurs (in any movie) the viewer is left with a vibe of self-congratulatory indulgence on the director's part. It's usually unintentional, but it drags a movie down every time.

The Coat Room, at this point, feels like it should be a chat-heavy 80-minute indie comedy that offers some witty banter, a few fine performances from some "no-name" actors, and just enough low-budget goodwill to keep the adventurous movie-watchers entertained. Unfortunately, the version I saw runs about 97 minutes; speaking only as one hopefully helpful analyst, I'd suggest to Mr. Gilbert that he take a few scalpel swipes at his debut feature, because there's some gold buried within The Coat Room. It just needs a chance to be uncovered.

(Oh, and Philadelphia looks great, thanks!)

3.5 (out of 5) stars for the flick as it stands, although a tighter pace and the removal of a few "bathtub" moments could absolutely bump it up a bit. Oh, and here's a note to all you highfalutin' film festivals out there: Give a kid a break, eh? I was up at the Toronto Film Festival last month, and it was there that I witnessed some fairly unwatchable films from filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Terry Gilliam, and Guy Ritchie, while an aspiring hopeful like Jason Gilbert and his scrappy little comedy get left in the lurch ... when his movie is precisely the sort of thing that film festivals should be focusing on instead of the latest A-lister that, frankly, doesn't really need the extra assistance. More info:

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originally posted: 10/07/05 05:27:41
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User Comments

10/08/05 Patrick Carrico James was heavenly! 5 stars
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