Review by James Lindorf
Billboard is the new independent film from writer and director Zeke Zelker (InSearchOf) who also executive produced the movie with his wife, Elaine. iDreamMachine will release the film, starring John Robinson, Heather Matarazzo, Leo Fitzpatrick, Alice Wills and Eric Roberts, on April 5th, 2019.
After the death of his father, Casey (Robinson) inherits the last remaining independent radio station in town, WTYT 960. To his surprise, the station is in the ratings basement and months away from folding. To right the ship, Casey decides to host a billboard-sitting contest. For a chance to win “nine-sixty” thousand dollars and a mobile home, four contestants will camp out on the billboard’s catwalk until only one remains. Casey has to adjust to running a business while in the spotlight of the competition and all the praise and scorn that comes with it.
Billboard is also part of Zelker’s “cine-experience” where two sides of a story are told on different platforms. In this case, we get to the community’s reaction to the contest during the Billboard movie. Through the 25-episode web series, The Billboard Sitters, you can learn more about the contestants and the events that unfold up on the catwalk. The first nine episodes are currently available here.
I think it is a great idea to expand on the world by adding in the web series. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there would be enough action happening atop a billboard to sustain multiple hours of content. If it is anything like the movie, it will start off strong and, after a certain point, just start to fall apart.
The strongest part of the film is Casey taking over the station and preparing for the contest. Once it begins, events become unfocused and plot lines are dropped at random. The bright spots are Robinson as Casey and Alice Wills as Henry. Their banter and emotional moments keep the film afloat when the script falls apart. The other characters are stereotypes at best. They may have an entertaining moment or two, but they lack the necessary depth to be endearing and capable of carrying a film.
The forgotten plot threads and 2-dimensional characters could be a product of subpar writing, but it is possible that creating the web series distracted from the film. Billboard could have been a great movie about the pressures Casey is under and the opportunities the contest is providing. Casey has the chance to live up to his father’s legacy and save the station. The four contestants have the opportunity to change the path their life is currently on, and the community as a whole had a chance to come together and support the dreams of several of its members. Instead, the more exciting elements are pushed aside to showcase bickering among all of the different parties.
Anyone interested in Billboard should check out the first episode of the Billboard Sitters. If you enjoy the vibe and production style of that series, then the movie could be for you. If you are on the fence, I would still recommend giving the film a shot because you get the addition of its two best characters.