by David Cornelius
You know you’re a true film geek if you’re watching “Film Geek” and you……giggle knowingly at the film’s opening montage of video store clerk chores, stuff like straightening shelves, shrinkwrapping VHS cover boxes, carrying giant stacks of videos to be returned to their proper section. Every serious film geek has earned at least one paycheck from a video store, and every serious film geek has struggled - and failed - to properly explain to a dimwitted customer why widescreen is the only proper home video option.
"I am geek, hear me roar."
…laugh at Scotty’s off-the-top-of-his-head list of every movie to have the word “Heaven” in the title, then start digging through your memory to think up all the ones he didn’t have time to name.
…finish Scotty’s film lists before the movie does. Taking a cue from “High Fidelity,” the film runs down the title character’s favorites from several given selected topics: John Carpenter movies, date movies, etc. When the discussion turned to David Cronenberg and Scotty’s list started to count down on screen, predicting Scotty’s number one choice is fairly easy. To a film geek.
…realize that the whole top five thing is an homage to (and not a steal from) “High Fidelity.”
…complain about the movie’s overuse of VHS as a viable home video option. The story takes place in modern day (as evident by a “Lord of the Rings” reference), yet aside from a DVD sign far off in the distance, the prominent home video option of choice is videotape. Let’s just chalk this one up to tone; VHS just feels like a “independent video store” kind of thing, while DVD is all modern and slick and such. You think “video store,” you think VHS. Even in the digital decade.
…cheer when Scotty references the obscure 80s cult favorite “Midnight Madness” in a game of Six Degrees.
…make overlong lists of reasons why you can appreciate “Film Geek.”
It’s so very easy to love “Film Geek,” especially if you are one. It was made by one - writer/director/editor James Westby is a twelve-year veteran of the video store industry who has turned his lifelong obsession into a semi-autobiographical comedy that’s equal parts vicious self-satire and giddy self-celebration. Westby’s achievement is even more impressive when you discover that the film was made for next to nothing, with a crew of only four people. (Well, more if you add in the casting guy and the music guy and, you know, the cast, but still.) Westby’s script is sharp and knowing, while his direction and editing move us to the heart of the comedy very quickly.
At the core of the film is a brilliant performance from Melik Malkasian, whose Scotty Pelk turns out to be one of cinema’s great losers. Here is an actor who understands the rhythms of his character - watch how he fidgets, listen how he works in words like “actually” like a subconscious tic into his dialogue. As written by Westby and brought to life by Malkasian, Scotty becomes more than a cartoon. He’s a real person, the very same geek you might meet (or be) in real life.
By making him so real, they’ve increased the potential for both the humor and the sadness in this character. It’s fun to laugh at Scotty’s quirks, quirks that some of us may recognize in ourselves. His inability to discuss, or even think about, anything other than movies is taken to comic extremes, yet that same inability then becomes a key in our pity for him. The screenplay finds him fired from his beloved video store job because his obsessions, his behavior, his very lack of a life are irritating, and when he’s given the chance to finally have a little romance in his life (thanks to a chance encounter with a alterna-chick artist played by the lovely Tyler Gannon), he’s so out of his comfort zone that we want to root for him, only to have him disappoint. His date with Niko is simultaneously hilarious and depressing. When she asks, “Do you ever talk about anything other than movies?,” it’s funny, but it’s also a key question at the heart of Scotty’s loneliness.
He is, after all, a man who slinks home to cereal for dinner, a quick self-pleasuring session, a check to see that yes, his web page still has zero visitors, and finally a classic movie, which he watches while slumped on his bed, a pathetic empty glaze on his face. Scotty says he loves movies because they “let you be other people,” but in doing so, he’s barely even himself. He’s a man so lost in his own obsession that he can’t even wake up and enjoy the non-movie world.
(If this seems like a lot to cram into a movie whose running time barely tops seventy minutes, don’t worry. “Film Geek” flies by, delivering the ups and downs of Scotty’s life with an admirable sense of storytelling economy.)
The only thing keeping “Film Geek” from being the work of brilliance it almost becomes is a finale that doesn’t quite work and feels a bit too out of place for everything that came before it. Westby opted to give Scotty a happy ending - a too-happy ending, in fact. There’s a sense that maybe this sweet finale is supposed to feel more like a movie than the more bitter reality of the rest of the story, a knowing wink from the filmmakers to the audience that says, “Yeah, this part? It’s all movie.” But it’s not the ending that any of the characters deserve, really.Still, it’s hard not to cheer along with Scotty’s big fake happy ending. After all, he may be a loser, an irritant, and a geek, but he is also us. And by “us,” well, you know who you are. Scotty would love to talk film with you.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13732&reviewer=392
originally posted: 10/12/06 05:05:01