Crossroads Film Fest Starts off with a packed house for world premiere!

3 Apr

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(Crossroads Film Festival runs Thursday thru Sunday/Melanie Addington)

Crossroads Kicks off with a Great Start!

By Melanie Addington

Crossroads Film Festival began tonight with a packed house at the world premiere of Pretty Ugly People written and directed by Ole Miss alum Tate Taylor. After the small crowds at last week’s On Location: Memphis International Film Festival it was exciting to be at a fest that had a great buzz about it. In fact, from the moment you walk into the United Artists theater, you can see just how excited the volunteers are. They are infectious with their hospitality and friendliness.

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(Herman Snell, festival director, Joy Parikh,  Greg Smith (VP of Crossroads) and Walter Biggins (Festival Committee – Workshop Coordinator)at the fest opening night/Melanie Addington)

As I waited for the movie to begin, the theater seats kept filling and when the lights went down, I’d say the theater was about 95 percent full. A short film, Citizen, started us off and was a nice little political piece set in the near distant future. James Darling, the film’s director, simply told the crowd that he hoped they enjoy the film.

After a brief Q&A with Darling, we began the world premiere of Pretty Ugly People. The crowd seemed to be filled with friends, family and longtime supporters which I worried would skew the audience reaction. But not to worry. The film was hysterical.

Pretty Ugly People is a comedy with heart. Starring Missy Pyle as Lucy, the film is about a woman who having suffered from being the “heavy” friend in college, reunites with her old buddies for a long weekend. After glamorizing her friends for years, she is in for a surprise when she discovers that they all have their less than joyful moments. Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls, Pumpkin, etc) is the caring friend that rounds up the less supportive crew who are too busy in their own lives to want to have to take time out for Lucy.

The premise of the film rests on this idea that Lucy, having never asked any of them for anything before, needs them “before her time is up.” An ambiguous phone call with McCarthy’s character, Becky, leads her to assume that Lucy is dying and they must go no matter what. I won’t give away whether she is or not, but let’s just say, the crew is not so happy when they arrive and Lucy has plans for them to go on a four-day hike through the wilderness.

The plot is fairly simple and the reunion type film has been done many times before (The Big Chill, etc), yet the film remains fresh with some great comedy from the ensemble cast. Still, the film has a good message and doesn’t just make fun of the heavy girl, but actually shows that we all have our hang ups, whether it is our looks, or sexual identity, our race, our position in society. Due to some pretty strong direction from Taylor, the film never gets heavy handed even though it takes on some pretty tough subjects.

As much as I loved the film, I had some trouble with the beginning and end. The middle of the film, when they are in the wilderness, is just perfect. Some great acting that is shot in a beautiful location in the hills of Montana is all you need. But the original premise of their friendship was stretched a bit thin as rather than open with flash back scenes of their college time, the director made an interesting decision to begin with animation. Not to say I didn’t like the animation, as it was done very well, with some great edits into the real characters (I compare it to the John Cusack Better Off Dead animation scenes but with more flair).

But, since the characters are bitchy and not real happy to support her in the beginning, it doesn’t help that they remain bitchy and not real happy to support her throughout. Why is she surprised by this? Why are these people her friends? Oh because, we all have those college friends, don’t we? The ones that you promise to remain in touch forever but as your lives go down separate paths, it gets harder and harder to remember to reach out. In fact, one of the lines in the film hits the nail on the head about the most obnoxious character, “We all have our George’s, don’t we?”

And we do. You can connect with this movie, because we all have those friends throughout life that we can be ourselves around even when we are our less than perfect selves. Those are the friends that, maybe it takes a while to get reacquainted, but once you do it is like you are right back in the moment that bonded you in the first place. And yet the beginning does work in the context of the film to help you understand that her idealized version of her college friends and who they are today maybe are not so different, it is she that is waking up.

And then the end happens. A complete curveball that maybe was a little too over the top but definitely a strong plot point in order to create a change in these characters. The ending is not the worst I have seen, but I did find it slightly out of place for the rhythm of the story.

After the film, the audience burst out in applause before Tate Taylor and Brunson Green, producer and also an Ole Miss graduate did a Q&A.

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(Brunson Green and Tate Taylor at the Q&A for the world premiere of Pretty Ugly People/Melanie Addington)

They discussed that their film had a budget of $3 million and that to get it from script to screen they had to go door-to-door looking for handouts for about six months. “You really gotta love doing this,” said Taylor. They finished the film on Sunday and told the audience that they were the first people to ever see it. An audience member asked Taylor where the premise of the film came from and he replied, “Octavia. (who hilariously plays Mary in the film) She is a friend of mine and had recently had gastric bypass surgery in real life and I was being insensitive and asked her why she would do that to her body. She responded because, when I’m finally thin, I’ll be happy like you guys.” Taylor said this made a huge impact on him and he realized that everyone has their something, the something that keeps them from thinking they can be happy.

The film has been submitted to a few festivals and will begin playing the circuit soon. We’ll keep a lookout for you and let you know when you will have a chance to see it! And if you see it for no other reason, then see it for the hysterical cameo by Allison Janney (West Wing). She steals the movie in both of her short scenes. Fantastic!

Check back tomorrow for day two of the Crossroads Film Festival coverage!

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