Sounds On Film: Stuck Outside Of Phoenix

I don’t ordinarily write about films here…okay, I’ve never written about films here before, but every now and then something happens and the rules of the game change. Last week I got a rare opportunity to attend the premiere of a locally made film called Stuck Outside Of Phoenix and after hearing about it for over a year I had to attend.  I have to preface this with an explanation concerning the trepidation and caution that I had in my mind upon attending the premiere. Somewhere in the last six months to a year ago, I ran into the producer of the film, Nico Holthaus, one strange night at Tempe Tavern and since then, this film has been in the back of my mind. See, my worry was that it was going to be all about the early 90s Tempe scene and the music/bands that provided it’s signature. I wasn’t anywhere near here at that time and in the last five years I feel like I’ve been covering a far more vital and creative scene that seems to grow beyond imagination with each passing day.  In 1990 I was thousands of miles away, I was grooving on records from Seattle, Chapel Hill, Minneapolis, D.C., and nearly every metropolitan area other than Phoenix–had I heard the Gin Blossoms? Absolutely, I put them in rotation at my college radio station, but I hadn’t heard of The Pistoleros or Dead Hot Workshop or Undertow or anyone else that were pillars of the local musical community at that time. I was out of my head immersed in the dour heavy metal meets punk of Sub Pop or the sunshine be damned glory of Madchester. It was not on my radar. This was my worry. I was going to see a movie that was about a scene that, while beloved and enamored locally, was not even recognized beyond the states borders. There must have been something in my soul that encouraged me to attend, to put aside my trepidation and worries, not sure what it was, but I will be forever grateful for that notion.

Stuck Outside Of Phoenix is not a  film about that scene. While that scene is the setting, the time is clearly 1990 and the soundtrack is clearly provided by the musicians of that time, this is a film that stands on its own. This is a testament to the film itself, it doesn’t have to rely on the backdrop or the soundtrack or the setting in any capacity–it’s simply a damn fine film. I could have gone in wanting to hate it and left with this impression. What is it? It’s a timeless tale of someone searching for something greater beyond themselves, while understanding that the actual greatness may be right in their midst. This is, first and foremost an indie film built on a shoestring budget–this is where Singles and Slacker meet…two films that were essential to my consciousness, which may explain why it appeals to me on so many levels–Cameron Crowe meets Richard Linklater in a dive bar in Tempe. This is in no way a complaint. While it’s nice to say those comparisons it does nothing to explain why this film is deserving of your time. Frankly put, there are three things that in my mind make a film great: 1) Character Development 2) A Rewarding Narrative Storyline and 3) Fascinating dialogue. Well, it turns out that Stuck Outside Of Phoenix has all three. And, no, I didn’t create those rules about what makes a film great in my mind to fit this movie, I studied film for five years and I know what I like when I see it and I know the difference between what is actually tripe and what is a quality effort.

All of these things, however, is what makes me incredibly happy and proud about this locally grown movie, so let’s go one by one. First off, the character development is great, the leads of Hote and Lola are genuine, wonderful and authentic–hell, if we aren’t those characters ourselves, they’re our best friends or close relations. Seriously. And while, yes I said that character development is my first priority, it has to be mentioned that this necessarily requires actors and actresses that can actually hold their own and bring it to the screen, if it wasn’t for them there would be no characters to develop. So, it turns out that Brandon Hannifin and Kat Bingham can hold their own and while they not only have an amazing on screen chemistry, they also make you care about these characters–really care, halfway through the movie you’ve made an emotional investment in them. Hell, halfway through the movie it seemed like Hote was an old roommate of mine and I was rooting all the way for him to get the girl. There is one mention that must be said, aside from our leading couple and that is the character of Gad played by local musician Chris DeGreen. At the Q&A session after the premiere DeGreen was asked about his acting resume, of which, it turns out, he has none. I don’t know how they found him, I don’t know how he is in this film, but honestly, he’s pure gold–in the scenes he occupies, he steals the show. In talking with other viewers of the movie afteward, we all seemed to love Gad and were overwhelmed by his character, and the performance by DeGreen. Simply stunning.

This brings me to a rewarding narrative storyline. Well, hell, the story is a coming of age story that may be familiar to all of us that took our time to come of age in our twenties. The story centers around Hote, a talented bass player who is both wanted at home and in distant, but promising Seattle, who lives at home with his mother and feels the urgency to move on with his life, sow his oats and generally make changes in his life for good or ill–at that age, it doesn’t matter, all you want is change, whether it’s scenery or scene or someone else to stare into, there are points in life that any form of “change” will do and the consequences can be sorted out later. The story is also about Lola, the beautiful convenience store clerk and single mother that realizes or responds to Hote’s intense need for change. Kat Bingham is tremendous in this role and she plays it perfectly, reaching out and withdrawing realistically–I’d like to say it’s fiction, but it’s not, I’ve lived it and I’m pretty sure author Art Edwards has as well, because this happens. A fantastic night that your willing to spend the rest of your days to get back is a reality, not just a romantic notion–it’s what people actually do, whether they like to admit it or not. Well, at least the people I know–we have those kind of nights.

So finally, it comes to fascinating dialogue. I wish I had the goddamn screenplay. What I love about indie films, especially one like this is that it captures reality. It shows how we live, how we interact, it shows all the stupid shit we say and the grief stricken faces we make when we say it. This film is full of that, from start to finish but I can’t quote a bit of it, though, there are probably a few hundred lines I could throw out there. Mind you this, every line Gad has will end up at some point on IMDB as pure genius–don’t know if it was written or improved, but it’s pure genius. Seriously, though there is so much dialogue in this 100 minute movie that it makes you remember when people cared about authentically talking. The transactions are real, they feel real, they sound like the shit I’ve said to friends and loved ones, it made me think about how I talk with people, and that maybe I should talk more with people about what matters. Granted, it’s not Tarantino dialogue, but it is meaningful and in some capacity magical. I can’t explain why exactly, I need to see it three or four more times, but I know that I can identify with both what’s being said and how it’s being expressed. The dialogue is what makes it such a joy to see these characters interact, not over done, not overwrought, but real, in the moment and perfect.

In the end, what does all this mean? I’m not sure. I know this is a great movie, turns out it also has a great soundtrack featuring some amazing local artists from the early 1990s. The locations, scenery, props (for the most part, it’s 1990 but Live’s Mental Jewelry poster from 1991 is on the wall) are kept to a pretty pristine authenticity. Did I enjoy it? No. I fucking loved it. Why? Because it’s just a great tale about a guy finding himself amidst music, mayhem and unexpected romance. While it has it’s roots firmly embedded in Tempe (this is pretty much a cinematographic wet dream for anyone that lives or has lived or loves Tempe) and there are plenty of inside jokes around and about that, it’s not about Tempe or Phoenix or Arizona. That’s what I love on two levels. First of all, I love where I live, it’s my choice and I’ll honestly probably stay here until the day I die, and this movie revolves around the land I love above all other places on the globe where I have resided. Secondly, it’s simply a timeless tale told in a modern landscape about some artistically inclined guy trying to find himself and possibly having to get the hell out of Dodge in order to come to terms with himself. My only recommendation is to get this to IFC as soon as possible, oh, and get a soundtrack CD out…turns out Gad’s song (Chris DeGreen’s song that is)  is the best in the bunch, but that’s the only spoiler I’m giving out. See this movie…How about tonight?