Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Adventures of Sebastian Cole


An investigation by the South Dakota Department of Pyrotechnics revealed that the production company responsible for filming the What A Friend We Have In Cheeses campaign for the American Dairy Council, had cut corners by hiring non-union ex-munitions experts from Posse Comitatus. These workers, happy to have their hands on explosives again, had over-rigged the Cheez-Whiz pots leading to the unfortunate incident at Mount Rushmore last week. Personally, I was very happy that CNN has had its camera crews busy elsewhere recently so no photos of me in my ruined Gaultier Roquefort gown got out. I always try to present the carefully coiffed and glamorous image that my fans expect, not looking like an overgrown Cheetoh being scrubbed down by a hazmat team.

The American Dairy Council, being upstanding citizens, have fired the production company and shut down the shoot for a few weeks while they find a more professional group to take over the project. I have therefore returned home to Chateau Maine for a quiet weekend. I talked to Joseph, my manager, on the phone the other day about the casting dilemmas for my new musical spectacular, Bridget Over Troubled Waters which is due to go into rehearsal after Christmas. He had excellent news - two suitable male leads, stars who have worked together for many years have signed for the project, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. In my Kabuki stage musical version of The Last Seduction, Mr. Feldman will take the Bill Pullman and Mr. Haim the Peter Berg part and they are looking forward to opening with me at the Pantages in Los Angeles for our out of town try-out before heading to Broadway.

After such good news, it was time to retired to the home theater with a white wine spritzer and the latest DVD to arrive from Netflix, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole. This independent film from Tod Williams played the art house circuit briefly in 1998 and 1999 and concerns the titular hero, a high school boy in upstate New York in the early 1980s and his wildly dysfunctional family.

As the film opens after an incomprehensible prologue (explained late in the film), Sebastian (Adrian Grenier), a bright and imaginative teen, is left behind as his older sister Jessica (Marni Lustig) heads off to Stanford. At her graduation dinner, we meet the extended Cole clan including mother Joan (Margaret Colin), a dipsomaniac expatriate Brit, stepfather Hank (Clark Gregg), an overgrown flower child public defender, father Hartley (John Shea), a driven architect without an ounce of feeling for his offspring, and Troy (Gabriel Macht), Jessica's boorish boyfriend. This little family is torn apart a few days later when Hank announces that, after careful consideration, he wants to go through sexual reassignment and become Henrietta. Jessica flees to college. Joan takes Sebastian and flees back to England and booze. Sebastian is miserable there and makes the decision to return to Hank, now Henrietta as s/he is the only adult figure in his life who has ever really cared for him as an individual and given him any real parenting. The majority of the film is about how Sebastian and Henrietta learn to re-establish trust and connection while Sebastian goes through a number of growing pains including school troubles, young love with girlfriend Mary (Aleksa Palladino), a bout of drunkenness, and a face-off with a killer pimp.

The film is episodic in nature and somewhat disconnected. While writer/director Williams has done a good job of creating interesting characters and situations, there is little flow between scenes or sense of story structure. The film does have a plot arc of sorts but there are so many odd little tangents that confuse, rather than illuminate the central relationships, that I wish Williams had reread Screenwriting for Dummies before shaping his film. The scenes that bookend the film, in particular, look like they're from another movie altogether and it' only Sebastian's presence that convinces us they belong there.

The performances are better than one might think. Clark Gregg brings a quiet dignity to Hank/Henrietta that allows us to see the pain his decision brings on himself, even as he knows it's right for him, as well as a growing understanding of the pain he has inflicted on others. Adrian Grenier, in the central role, is convincing as an adolescent, but isn't particularly good at letting us see Sebastian's interior life and thoughts, which are so important in a film of this type. Veteran character actors Shea and Colin score as his parents in their few scenes, especially Shea in a family dinner scene at his parent's home where, in a few moments, we realize that the major elements of his dysfunction are handed down from the grandparents. I also liked up and coming heartthrob Gabriel Macht as the motorcycle guy without a single redeeming quality.

The film has that indie low budget look of having been filmed in friends' basements with a less than professional crew. It doesn't destroy the film to look so cheap but there are times when you wish for a bit more sheen - especially as there are some jarring continuity problems involving weather and snow.

In general, it's a film with interesting ideas and insights into the disasters families inflict on each other in the name of love - it just leaves much to be desired in its execution. The DVD has the film in a reasonable transfer and sound mix without any major extras.

Field archery. Desert crash. Empty house lovemaking. Silly karate moves. Repetitive hallway bicycling. Community service work detail flirting. Transcript forging. High SAT scores. 

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