Walter was a big hit at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4. The quirky comedy/drama with a solid cast and a unique storyline was screened in three theaters at once at the Palm Springs Regal 9, with the director and various members of the cast present.
Walter begins with an introduction to the title character (Andrew J. West), shown as a child at his father’s funeral. The self-narration explains that Walter is the son of God and judges whether or not a person goes to heaven or hell. He’s then shown waking up in the morning to three separate alarm clocks in a room that is an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise. Walter lives with his mother (Virginia Madsen), who is always cooking him scrambled eggs, and he begins his day by getting dressed for his job as a movie-theater usher.
At the theater, he works with a verbally abusive and crass co-worker named Vince (Milo Ventimiglia); his boss, Corey (Jim Gaffigan); and a beautiful concession-stand worker, Kendall (Leven Rambin). Walter’s OCD comes into play as he vacuums the lobby and uses a magnifying glass to inspect his usher stand for spots. As he takes tickets, walks down the street or otherwise encounters people, he usually utters “heaven” or “hell” with every person he sees.
One day, after the movie theater closes and he begins his trek home, he encounters a mysterious ghost. Greg (Justin Kirk) explains that he is dead, but hasn’t been sent to heaven or hell, and harasses Walter to send him to either one. Walter responds that he cannot do that, given he can’t make a judgment about him. Greg annoys Walter so much that he winds up going to therapy with Dr. Corman (William H. Macy).
Walter and his back-story are revealed in a series of flashbacks involving his father (Peter Facinelli). It isn’t long before Walter begins to understand himself better.
Walter mixes comedy and drama in a way that isn’t often done. Most of the comedic scenes involve his time spent at the theater with Vince, Corey and Kendall, while his relationship with his mother—and his relationship with himself—are certainly troubled. After an intense story climax, you’ll walk away agreeing: Walter is outstanding,
During a Q&A (see the photo below), producer Brenden Patrick Hill explained the film was based on a short done in 2010 that was written by Paul Shoulberg, who also wrote the full-length film.
“Paul (Shoulberg), Andy (West) and I all went to Indiana University together, and Paul sent me some stuff he was working on. I said Walter would be a great short film, but he said it would never work,” Hill said. “We turned it into a short film that Andy was the lead of, and then because we had a short, we knew we wanted to make a feature, and to show people like (director) Anna (Mastro) how great Andy was as Walter, and sort of build off on that short film.”
Mastro said she was immediately drawn to the project.
“I fell in love with the script, the character and the themes of it,” she said. “This is a quirky movie that falls into no genre and is hard to be made into a film, but luckily, we had a couple of actors who believed in it enough to help us on this journey.”
In response to a question, West said he’d never have another role like Walter.
“(Walter) is probably the most unique character I will ever play,” he said. “Paul (Shoulberg) has a knack for creating the most vivid characters on the page, and you have to fill in the blanks. That wasn’t the case with this. For me, the trick to this guy is that he’s profoundly uncomfortable.”