J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

SF Indie Fest ’17: Americana

Avery Wells is in the movie business, but he still has a conscience. Granted, he is a film editor rather than a big star or producer, but we should take what we can get. Unfortunately, his deep-seated guilt has forced him to retreat into the bottle. A chance at redemption will have tragic repercussions in Zachary Shedd’s Bay Area noir Americana (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 San Francisco Independent Film Festival.

Ever since the fatal accident, Wells has been largely drinking himself into oblivion in his Northern California cabin, until producer Calib Andrews practically abducts him. Drying out Wells, Andrews hires him to recut his troubled film Americana, starring Wells’ own sister Kate, who happened to be in his car the night he ran over a young boy. Just when Wells starts to get on with his life, a relative of the victim commits an act of truly Biblical revenge that sends him spirally down again. However, a couple of well-placed questions lead Wells to suspect the motives of his closest associates.

Clearly, Shedd has spent a great deal of time studying 1970s neo-noirs like De Palma’s Obsession. He and cinematographer Justin Charles Foster get the look and form right, but the substance is thin. Even with the Shedd’s suggestively Spartan approach to storytelling, his narrative is rather sleight and his twists are not difficult to anticipate. Still, he fully capitalizes on the San Francisco locations, without summoning disruptive memories of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which is really quite a feat to pull off.

As Wells, David Call broods and implodes with admirable conviction. Kelli Garner projects a sense of vulnerability tinged with darkness that works perfectly for sister Kate and gives viewers an idea why she was cast as Marilyn Monroe in the Lifetime miniseries we will probably never see. Jack Davenport and Peter Coyote add the sort of roguish color and sharp elbows that well suits its Hollywood power players.

Americana features strong performances by the entire ensemble and it is finely polished. However, it just never really gets very far. Basically, it makes noir feel small and slow. Recommended only for Bay Area film boosters who will forgive its predictability, Americana screens Saturday (2/4) and Wednesday (2/8), as part of this year’s SF Indie Fest.

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