Review: Dependent’s Day (2016)

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Dependent’s Day

Rating

Director

Michael David Lynch

Screenplay

Michael David Lynch

Starring

Joe Burke, Benita Robledo, Shannon Lucio, Josh Staman, David August, Lisa Ann Walter, Ashley Dyke, Brian George

MPAA Rating

Unrated

Buy on DVD/Blu-ray

Review

In our drive for success, whether in our careers or our relationships, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. In Dependent’s Day, a struggling actor and a budding fashion designer find their seemingly fruitful partnership may not be as stable as they believed.

The film opens as Cam (Joe Burke) and Alice (Benita Robledo) have hunkered down with their accountant (Brian George) to decide their best options for preparing their taxes. Assessing their financial situation, Cam is forced to take on the role of dependent in order to maximize their return. This simple designation puts Cam into the mindset that he must become successful so he can feel like an equal rather than being a drain on his girlfriend’s bank account.

From there, Cam can’t seem to catch a break as he begs an old friend (Josh Staman) for payback on a loan, takes on odd jobs as a children’s party clown, and eventually lands two promising positions as a babysitter. Each time he thinks he’s about to succeed, he’s stymied by careless actions and witless behavior, which ultimately lead to trouble in his relationship.

Burke infuses Cam with a palpable charm, a careworn comedic touch that entrances the audience. He portrays the lovable loser in a purely affecting way, presenting him as the kind of man who spends so much time trying to enhance the lives of others that he forgets how to devote time to himself. Burke’s moments of emotional clarity hit the audience with the weight of real life experience. As his world fractures around him, he slowly rebuilds himself with the certitude that he can and will change for the better, but he must do so without sacrificing himself in the process.

As his partner in romance, Robledo is accessible, trusting and emotionally distant. She conveys a sense of love and passion, but often loses focus on what makes their relationship work. As much as Cam undermines his own success, she allows her sense of perspective to become clouded by inconvenience and frustration. They dance a seductive dance of self-doubt and self-sabotage, risking their moments of happiness with moments of distrust.

These emotional nuances are explored in the affecting, but predictable screenplay by the film’s director Michael David Lynch. Lynch has been working in Hollywood for a number of years and has been credited in various roles on numerous productions. While most audiences aren’t likely familiar with his work, this may be the effort that gives him the best opportunity to expand that familiarity.

It feels like a personal project, one which digs into relationships and tries to find honesty and compassion in them while tempering it all with realism. It isn’t always successful, which can be attributed to some of the random, only-for-comedy elements that the script shoehorns into the narrative. At what point does Cam go from being a character to a comic caricature? The buildup for the character so often feels genuine that it’s these unexpected moments of ill-fitting humor, most notably the scene of Cam’s second babysitting job, that bog down the tale. It’s frustrating to see so much potential tarnished unnecessarily.

Yet, amidst the comic elements, a simple story emerges. Broken by labels and confronted with the reality of their lives, Cam and Alice find time apart to contemplate where they could have gone wrong. Through perseverance, both come to terms with their failures, but also recognize what makes them click as a romantic team. This is where the film finds its greatest truth. In relationships, it’s not the perfection of carefully constructed roles, but through the symbiotic and emotional connections that they thrive.

This is the kind of film independent studios should be making. While the Weinsteins did great work in the 1980s and 1990s bringing independent cinema into the mainstream, their attempts to monetize the process led towards an abandonment of artistic vision in the vain pursuit of awards attention. As indie cinema began shifting away from its small-budget roots, films like this became more difficult to find and fund. Who wanted to risk their marketing or production budgets on a film that wasn’t certain to star a major name or make a profit?

It’s nice to see that that kind of small, personal film is still finding its way into the festival circuit. In the hands of major studios, this type of passion and dedication feels disingenuous. Here, while it might have moments of misguided or misplaced energy, it never feels false and it is never disrespectful to its audience. A film like Dependent’s Day wears its heart on its sleeve and puts every fraction of its considerable strengths to effective use.

There may not be anything fresh or subversive on display, but Dependent’s Day is the kind of comfort film audiences enjoy watching. It’s simple, straight forward and relatable. These are qualities that might be viewed as secondary to the art of filmmaking in certain circles, but when effectively employed they create a lasting impression and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Review Written

April 10, 2016

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