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Lightning Bug
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by Scott Weinberg

"So clearly almost hurts to watch."
4 stars

It's often easy to tell when you're watching a Heavily Autobiographical piece of moviemaking. You can forgive a handful of familiar conventions because they obviously spring from real life, and not from that hateful Cliche Handbook that so many screenwriters treat as their Bible. Lightning Bug is indeed a heavily autobiographical piece of storytelling, but it's also rather charming, amusing, touching...and most important of all: it clearly comes from a sincere place.

Longtime Hollywood FX guru Robert Hall has delivered the gooey goods on TV shows like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; he's honed his craft in B-movie after B-movie and Lightning Bug marks his first foray into the field of screenwriting/directing. So when you quickly discover that Lightning Bug is a 1970s-based tale of one young fella who hopes to escape his rusty mobile home by seeking a career in the magic of Movie know you're watching a story that actually happened. For the most part, anyway.

Green Graves (the excellent Bret Harrison) is a kindhearted-yet-frustrated teenager who shares an Alabama motor home with his mom and little brother. Green is absolutely obsessed with horror movies and possesses an uncanny knack for recreating his favorite creatures with rubber and latex. He dreams of a career as the next Tom Savini, but (as is often the case) those dreams are hidden behind tons of real-life pressure, pain and insecurity. Green is a good apple who could turn rotten at any time.

On one of his frequent visits to the local video store, Green meets a kindred spirit in the gothy Angevin Duvet. Angie also shares a deep love for the horror flicks and seems well-adjusted enough to appreciate Green for the admirable misfit he is. The two strike up a sweet relationship that promptly turns romantic, and all's at it should be in the world of teenage love...except for all those painful reminders that life kinda sucks...especially when you're young and poor.

Green's mother has unwisely chosen an abusive drunk as her new husband; Angevine's maniacally devout mother throws up roadblocks at every conceivable turn; and the one silver lining in Green's glum existence - the upcoming Haunted House exhibit in which he hopes to showcase his creature craftworks - is in danger of imploding at any minute.

Reminiscient of David Gordon Green's excellent All the Real Girls combined with a Fangoria fan's mentality and a touching sense of real nostalgia, Lightning Bug is a quietly endearing and consistently engaging little movie. Throughout the film there's a clear sense of an aspiring filmmaker who's trying to get this story right because it means something personal. Sure it's great to create a disgusting race of marauding aliens for the latest horror sequels, but eventually a filmmaker wants to tell his own tale. And Hall's tale is a winning one indeed.

Bret Harrison absolutely anchors the film with his fantastic portrayal of Green; he's effortlessly likeable and entirely believable as a young man focused on the stars while nailed to the pavement. As the free-spirited Angie we have That 70's Show's Laura Prepon, finally (albeit not surprisingly) proving that she's eminently capable of doing a whole lot more than the sitcom material. Prepon strikes an effective balance between playfully sexy and quietly bruised; she and Harrison share an immediate and consistent chemistry together.

Not to be upstaged by the two leads, both Ashley Laurence (yup, that's Kirsty from the Hellraiser series) and Kevin Gage (May, Strangeland) deliver the goods in a big way. Laurence's performance as Green's long-suffering mother is easily the best work she's ever done; Gage is staggeringly powerful as he creates a sadly human monster.

There aren't any big stars or exploding space stations in Lightning Bug; it's just a quiet little People Story, only not the force-fed, paint-by-numbers, insert-majestic-musical-score-here sort of pap that we're normally fed at the multiplexes. It's frequently funny and periodically horrifying; it's a little melancholy and consistently sincere. (I know I keep harping on this 'sincerity' thing, but one can overlook a whole LOT of cinematic flaws if it's evident that the movie simply comes from somewhere sincere.)

Happily, Lightning Bug has very few flaws to overlook, and Hall deserves high praise indeed: while toiling away on movies like Black Scorpion 2 and Club Vampire, he was obviously snatching any lesson in filmmaking that he could get get his claws into. And since he worked with Roger Corman several times, Hall clearly had ample opportunity to learn from a master. As they say, nothing beats experience.

Combine that experience with a touching little tale of autobiographical adolescent nostalgia and top it off with a cast that's cast-iron across the board...that's a pretty impressive debut if you ask me.

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originally posted: 04/08/04 16:21:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/04/07 Sugarfoot Well Scott was right about it hurting to watch 1 stars
1/26/05 Billy James I loved the show 4 stars
7/01/04 Liz One of the best movies I have ever seen!!! 5 stars
6/17/04 Liz Good movie 4 stars
4/19/04 Mary P. Laws Brilliant movie making at it's finest. Robert Hall has made one of THE best films of 2004!! 5 stars
4/14/04 amanda anderson film is terrific and don gibb is in it! 5 stars
4/13/04 Brian J. Laws This movie ROCKS!!! 5 stars
4/12/04 Christine Reils Awesome, A must see. 5 stars
4/08/04 Beverly Eng fantastic movie!!! a must see!! 5 stars
4/08/04 JD Awesome Movie! 5 stars
4/07/04 Robert "SnarkAngel" Ritchard One of the absolute BEST independent films I have ever had the pleasure to see; a real gem. 5 stars
4/07/04 Angela Gregory This is a wonderful movie with great talent and imagination. 5 stars
4/07/04 Shirley Ozment Absolutely wonderful movie. Robert Hall has a fanastic career at movie making. 5 stars
3/31/04 Jeff Wright AWESOME! Truly INSPIRING! 5 stars
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  DVD: 09-Aug-2005



Directed by
  Robert Hall

Written by
  Robert Hall

  Bret Harrison
  Laura Prepon
  Kevin Gage
  Ashley Laurence
  Bob Penny
  Lucas Till

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