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...Around (2008)

Director: David Spaltro
Starring: Rob Evans, Molly Ryman, Ron Brice, Marcel Torres
Unrated Running time: 104 minutes
No DVD release yet -- currently appearing at various festivals

My heart goes out to David Spaltro. He probably had no idea that the gravy days of cheap credit and easy money were drawing to an end, just as he was maxing out 40 credit cards to finance his debut feature, ...Around. Yes -- 40 credit cards loaded to the tune of about 175,000 smackers. That's the kind of talk that gives an unrepentant cheapskate like me chest pains, but it doesn't seem to have killed Spaltro yet. If he's anything like the protagonist of ...Around, hardheaded and willing to incur stomach-churning debt in order to realize his dreams, chances are he would do it all over again -- meltdown of the usurious devil-system be damned.

Doyle Simms (Rob Evans) is a young man who has dreams of becoming a filmmaker. From a broken home and living in a crappy neighborhood, Doyle's life is utterly devoid of that mysterious "White privilege" the commies are always rattling on about. Nothing comes easy to Doyle, yet with a healthy blend of self-effacing humor and piss-and-vinegar stubbornness he finds a way to survive. When he finally makes it to the Big Bad City (NYC for the slower readers), the cold-hearted bureaucracy of the financial aid office makes his dream of attending film school a financial impossibility. He doesn't let that stop him, and he ends up living on the streets and contemplating existence with the most well-read homeless man ever captured on film (Ron Brice). Eventually Doyle finds a low-paying job in a restaurant, forms a bond with an aspiring actress hottie named Allyson (Molly Ryman), and manages to scrape up enough cash to rent an apartment. It would seem that life is finally coming together for Doyle, but the realization that he has struggled with everything except the creation of his film -- his life's primary purpose -- leaves Doyle demoralized. It doesn't help that a pretty traumatic situation develops with his emotionally unstable mother and his relationship with Allyson begins to splinter. Will Doyle be able to pull it together long enough to make his movie? Will he finally bury the hatchet with his Mom? Will he be able to keep Allyson in his life? Maybe, but it doesn't go down the way you would think.

It's a first film made on the cheap, so the expected flaws make an appearance. Nothing major, and if you are not an unlicensed movie critic like yours truly, I doubt you'll even notice. ...Around has something that many movies, especially independent movies, are sorely lacking: sincerity. Free of the girly schmaltz that often creeps into similarly themed dramas, ...Around makes you care about the characters and the situations they find themselves in because it rings true. There are no easy answers to their problems, and no happy endings for some of them. ...Around is about the struggle to live your own damn life -- a struggle that never ends, and one that not everyone can endure. Rob Evans is excellent as Doyle, delivering a natural performance that keeps the film engaging even when it loses its footing towards the final act. The missteps are only noticeable because the first thirty minutes or so are nearly perfect. The saving grace is Spaltro's sensibility as a writer/director. This film was obviously made with a great deal of love, and that passion translates well. He also manages to display an intelligence that is light years beyond many of his peers. There's no Guy Ritchie-inspired hipster nonsense, self-conscious attention-whoring camera wankery, and no transgendered, biracial political activism. Just a simple story, with real people going through real situations. And THAT, my friends, is a massive accomplishment in an era where filmmakers feel to need to be relentlessly obnoxious.

Will Spaltro make his money back? I don't know. This isn't a good time to be alive if you aren't either subsidized by or working for the government. He certainly should -- he's made a very warm-hearted little movie that delivers a lot for a small amount of money. Big time producers should take notice of Spaltro's intelligent and economical approach to filmmaking. Though he may have to dumb it down a bit for the Hollywood crowd. And that's a compliment.