The filmmakers grew this melon in our own backyard, so you’ll want to give it the benefit of every doubt. Unfortunately, at the end of a brief runtime that feels much longer than it should, I had to admit this just isn’t a good movie, even by my-buddy-shot-and-edited-the-whole-thing-over-the-weekend standards.
If this film were porn, the production values would be passable. Sadly, this isn’t porn, so the choppy editing, ham-fisted dialogue, cheeseball Wal-Mart keyboard soundtrack and painfully awkward performances put the aesthetics of The Lives of Angels squarely in the “homemade” column. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hell, I play the banjo—I’m all about homemade. I’m fully aware that the slickness of big-budget Hollywood can be nothing more than lipstick on the corpse of a lousy film. Conversely, a lack of technical dazzle actually enhances some movies, giving them a hand-hewn charm missing from the typical mega-million-dollar bubblegum flicks Hollywood forces us to chew all summer long.
Not much hand-hewn charm in The Lives of Angels, though, which is a shame because you’ll want to like this movie. Not only did it win Best Short Comedy at the 2008 New York International Film and Video Festival (I’m honestly not sure how that happened), it was also filmed mostly in Santa Fe, using facilities at Santa Fe Community College as well as local scenery at the Cowgirl and the Cross of the Martyrs. It boasts an impressive cast of New Mexico actors, who I’m sure would do much better with a more polished script.
Director Stephen Rubin and company wanted to put together a short film that would spark enough interest to generate financial backing for a full-length feature, but I wish they’d done more with these 45 minutes. Ladies’ man Frankie, played by Will Arute, and capital-L loser Jules, played by director Rubin, engage in a series of contrived conversations mostly revolving around whether or not Jules is a smoker. They head to a bar and catch the eye of Ralph (Jody Hegarty), a lovely blonde woman with a conspicuous taste for pop-literary fiction.
The evolution of the relationship between this threesome is influenced by a bunch of guardian angels, one assigned to each main character. Meanwhile, a lady devil attempts to push everything in a bad direction.
If after reading the above paragraph you see some flicker of originality or intrigue, then maybe you’ll enjoy this movie more than I did. For me, the concept seems tired and the storyline does, too. The characters do a bunch of quasi-philosophizing. There’s some cheesy background effects to let you know when something supernatural is happening. Worst of all, I didn’t laugh once, at a single scene, during the entire movie—never a good sign for a comedy.
Mainly, the story just stumbles along to a predictable conclusion, the characters pushed into various scenarios by their guardian angels. Without any real autonomy, it’s hard to care much about any of the three people at the center of this bare-bones story. It’s even harder to care much about any of the angels, since they seem enormously bored by their assignments. Their only real motivation for helping out their wards is to get a ticket out of limbo and into Heaven. It’s just not enough to hang a story on.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Judge for yourselves. Just because I’ve shot my mouth off about this particular film is no excuse to avoid supporting local films. The Lives of Angels is playing with two other short homegrown movies, Army Men by Albuquerque’s Lance Maurer and Spinners: A Magical Romantic Lowrider Comedy in its world premiere. Even if The Lives of Angels doesn’t deliver, the other two films are worth a peek.