Slamdance Movie Film Festival Review: ‘Yelling Fire In An Empty Theater’

Slamdance Film Festival 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. My second film at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival is the first feature from writer-director Justin Zuckerman. After some retro opening credits showing 1970’s New York City, the story focuses on 21-year-old Lisa (Isadora Leiva), who is pursuing her dream of relocating to the Big Apple (she even wears apple core earrings) after graduating from Florida State University.

Lisa’s plan of “no plan” exemplifies her naivety towards real life, and she’s about to get a front row seat to what the real world and ‘adulting’ is all about. She’s been offered a spare room in the apartment Holly (Kelly Cooper) shares with her musician boyfriend Bill (Michael Patrick Nicholson). Lisa’s mom and Holly’s mom are friends from back home. The first speed bump in Lisa’s NYC dream is that while Holly promised the room to her, Bill had promised the room to his friend Doug (Colin Burgess), who is slated to arrive in a couple of weeks. This is only the first indication of the tumultuous relationship that Lisa has been plopped into.

Of course, any of us who aren’t 21-year-old dreamers know fully well that this won’t be the last complication or rude awakening for Lisa in her ‘New York experience’. And, oh my, how the script delivers on that. The film works thanks to the strong writing and the fine acting, especially from Ms. Leiva, a relative newcomer to the big screen. She is bright-eyed and engaging, and we root for her despite her Pollyanna hopes. Two others in supporting roles include Ryan Martin Brown as Lisa’s boyfriend from college, and Austin Cassell as a co-worker who secured his position because his uncle “owns the place”. Both deliver life lessons to Lisa.

Lisa’s story and the characters in the film keep us interested despite the distracting technical issues that challenge us. Scenes are regularly out of focus, the shaky-cam moments are extreme, and the sound is so ‘in and out’ that we often strain to hear some dialogue. Slamdance is a festival that celebrates independent and low-budget filmmaking, but that doesn’t excuse sloppy work. Still, beyond that, it’s a nice project from a promising new filmmaker, and it features a line of dialogue that will stick with me: “Everything makes sense when you’re in college.”

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