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.”
A Los Angeles family lets a really pretty girl into their house for an elongated visit, and—surprise surprise—infidelity and other sorts of trouble ensue.
Nobody Walks is the latest from co-writer Lena Dunham, who penned and directed the very-good Tiny Furniture. While the movie has some tasty visuals and a dreamy soundtrack, the story doesn’t quite cut it. In fact, it’s quite predictable and boring.
The really pretty girl is Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a supposed artist looking to finish her art film with the help of a freelance sound engineer, Peter (John Krasinski). This is one of those films that present an “artist” who is supposed to be very talented—but the film she’s working on is stupid. It’s just black-and-white footage of bugs that is meant to be “deep.” Well, it’s not. It’s just a bunch of bugs running around.
Nothing Martine says is all that enlightening or profound, especially when she’s directing her movie. Peter instantly finds her talented, which I suppose is a direct sign that he wants to cheat on his wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt).
Julie has her own potential infidelity storm brewing. She’s a therapist with a sleazy screenwriter client (Justin Kirk) who tells her about the sex dreams he’s having. Of course, she’s in them. This is all well-worn, run-of-the-mill territory.
The movie lights up a bit in the story of young Kolt (India Ennenga), a budding writer with a crush on Peter’s assistant (Rhys Wakefield). Ennenga delivers the film’s best performance as a teenager with the biggest brain in the house. Had the film been more about her, it might’ve been interesting. Ennenga is a featured actress on HBO’s Treme, if you are looking for her beyond this movie. I think she has a future.
Director Ry Russo-Young is trying to show us a quiet Southern California in her film. While the family does attend a party at one point, most of this film takes place in a Silver Lake home hidden quietly in the hills. This part of the country is always portrayed as a little insane, so it’s refreshing to see a film that acknowledges that all parts of Los Angeles aren’t out of hand.
Thirlby is one of those actresses who I want to like so much, but I just haven’t been given a good enough reason. I liked her just fine in Juno; and she was OK in Dredd, but she’s failed to knock me out so far. Unfortunately, her Martine is not a well-written, engaging character. She’s basically an insecure person who can’t help but make out with any decent-looking man within mouth range. If there was a way to make this stereotypical character someone worth rooting for, Thirlby, the director and her crew did not find it. She’s actually diabolical, yet remarkably dull at the same time.
Krasinski does much of the film’s heavy lifting as the cheating hubby. While the film doesn’t necessarily offer a reason for why Peter would cheat (he seems happy in his marriage), these sort of things just happen sometimes. But Peter’s eventual downward spiral into jealous rage seems a little forced and out of place. Krasinski does these scenes well enough, but they feel silly.
Dylan McDermott has an unmemorable, small part as Leroy, Julie’s famous musician ex-husband and Kolt’s father. His presence is another attempt by the movie to show this family as forward=thinking and “free.” They are so cool to let the ex come over and sit at the dinner table! Too bad that ex is Dylan McDermott in autopilot mode.
Nobody Walks isn’t a total loss. I liked the soundtrack music by Will Bates and Fall on Your Sword, along with the excellent cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt. As dopey and mundane as the film can get, it looks and sounds good.
But good music and nice visuals aside, this feels like a movie that has been done before—and done better.
Now playing at Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert, 779-0430).