Mind the Gap

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 03/24/04 05:27:02

"…In what? Logic? Reality? Filmmaking prowess?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Noticing the name of Eric Schaeffer attached to the writing credits of any film is fair warning enough. He’s one of these independent filmmakers too mainstream for the arthouse circuit and yet too uninteresting for the mainstream. Belonging to the same string of talky screenwriters as Edward Burns and Tony Spiridakis, he’s another who thinks the pinnacle of everything interesting about life happens in New York. Schaeffer’s voice represents the Average Joe in a bar who thinks he has all the answers about the human condition but has nothing interesting to say. Yet, he keeps talking.

Schaeffer’s latest follows the multiple-character/multiple-plot strand/when-will-the-connections-be-made template. There’s crotchety old Herb (Alan King), who is the typical “in MY day” guy criticizing everyone younger than him for their ignorance of the past. Malissa (Elizabeth Reaser) is the free spirit in the small town, loving but trapped in her dumpy homelife taking care of her terminally ill mother. Sam (Schaeffer) is a single father so loving of his son that when the boy suggests he shave his head to “be like Mike”, dad joins him. “If he can’t believe the little dreams can come true, how can he believe in the big ones?” Cliché, but touché.

Wait, there’s more. Jody (Jill Sobule) is a street singer with a heart condition. She’s also commitment-phobic and apparently career-phobic as she’d rather sing on the corner for change then in a sort of venue where people would actually be listening. Finally, there’s John (Charles Parnell) who’s got a broken heart himself after cheating on his wife and losing custody of his little boy. Starting to see the connections here?

Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, creativity drowned out in the circumstances of a life they can’t control. Subtlety is a chapter that this club of writers must have skipped in film school. Unless it was the school of Syd Field. Richard Curtis did it right with Love Actually, keeping us interested in the characters but never losing sight of his grand romantic themes. Paul Thomas Anderson may have hit us over the head (and slapped us in the face 100 times and pulled the rug out from under us) in Magnolia, but it was presented in such an operatic way that our expectations were always off-kilter. Mind The Gap is like watching a checklist in motion. Each character’s story is a chapter-play presented in 3-4 sections (I lost count), all individually renting out their space in the timeline like a baseball lineup. “OK, Herb, you’re up!...Malissa, you’re on deck, so grab a bat.

Most filmmakers would find a way to mix it up prior to the final act when the connections between the characters become clear (or they finally meet.) Not Schaeffer, who literally takes a 1-2-3-4-5 approach to the editing and it becomes boring very quickly. The most creative it gets is to connect the plot-dots by characters clutching their chests, since at least two of them have heart conditions and a third may be facing another serious medical condition. And another wants to kill himself (in an exasperatingly drawn-out sequence that makes Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon attempt seem subtle by comparison.)

Schaeffer’s sequences as the father are the only ones resonant enough to possibly warrant its own film treatment (despite two late-act coincidences; one, at a speed dating conference is completely laughable.) The others aren’t very interesting and their connection to the grand scheme gets no touché. The film is rife with serious issues (forgiveness, death, etc…) but it overplays its hand so often that its hard not to see the writer at work as opposed to the humans we’re supposed to be caring about. Mind The Gap certainly isn’t as self-important or frustratingly smug as Schaeffer’s If Lucy Fell and maybe that’s attributed to him growing older. Unfortunately, that chapter of our lives doesn’t always come with wisdom.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.