Greetings again from the darkness. Mining a mid-life crisis for new film material often results in something we have seen on screen too many times in the past. However the first feature film for writer/director Tim Godsall and co-writer Katharine Knight draws inspiration from the 2008 Carly Mensch one-act play “Len, Asleep in Vinyl”, and what we get is a terrific little indie gem with multiple interesting characters.
Highly successful music producer Len Black has pretty much “dropped out” of society as evidenced by his quitting in the midst of an awards ceremony, and by his new hobby of floating in the algae-laden swimming pool at his country estate. His self-imposed exile seems designed to magically reveal the meaning of life and lead to a form of self-discovery. Soon his peaceful deep-in-thought zen is disrupted – first by the arrival of his estranged son Max, and then by the presence of his pop star protégé Zoe. Len is perturbed by the uninvited guests, and shows nothing approaching warmth or caring towards either.
What we really have is a 3 person collision of psychological crisis. Len is attempting to come of age (a bit late, given he’s in his mid-40’s); OCD Max has dropped out of school in hopes of making it with his band; and Zoe is on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Three messes all intertwined with each other, as Max just wants Len to be a dad this one time, and Zoe wants him to show a little compassion and not treat her like the pop music ATM she has become. Despite the relentless attention she has from her public and fans, what she needs is a bit of attention from the guy that got her into this.
Rhys Ifans plays Len, and his outstanding performance makes the film work. He realizes he’s a jerk, but has no clue how to atone for the past. Jack Kilmer (Val’s son who is also the “projectionalist” in The Nice Guys) plays Max as a carefully considered young man who is never without his “to do” list. Juno Temple plays Zoe, and perfectly captures the two sides and delicacy of young fame. As an added bonus, the fourth wheel is local kid William (Keir Gilchrist, It’s Kind of a Funny Story), who ironically is a surrogate-son type to Len, and helps out with chores around the house. There is also a brief sequence featuring the always great Kathryn Hahn as Len’s ex and Max’s mom.
The heaviness of the emotional stuff is offset brilliantly by comedic moments … some small, others not so small. The scene with Len addressing William’s classroom (in a quasi-take-a-parent-to-school day) is both hilarious and insightful. Minus any decorum or good judgment, Len spills to the students what his life has been. It’s a turning point in the film as we finally see him as more than the dirtbag we originally thought. It also leads to Len’s rant – right in Max’s face – about the roots of rock and roll, and how a privileged, uptight young man couldn’t possibly have the soul and spirit required to make a go of it.
Lessons are learned by all, and much enlightenment has occurred by film’s end. Of course, those doing the teaching and those doing the learning are a bit unconventional, as it’s Len who finally figures out solitude and loneliness may not be a worthy goal. It’s a wonderful first feature from the filmmakers and a top notch performance from Mr. Ifans.