Sundance Film Festival Review: New Low

by Whitney Borup

clwmovie011010c 102350cThis year the Sundance Film Festival included a category they called “Next.” The idea was to showcase some of the best films made with the lowest amount of money. Adam Bowers’ film “New Low” certainly qualifies as far as the budget is concerned. Shot on different pieces of borrowed equipment (whatever friend was around that day, he says), Bowers’ wrote, directed, and starred in the film. It’s hard not to root for a project like this. And, while Bowers as an actor is decent – his timing is always spot on, even if his performance gets a little repetitive – the rest of the film is dull in a predictable kind of way. If you’re going to the trouble of making a film for such a tiny amount of money, not knowing where it will end up, just for the love of filmmaking, it seems like you should try to do something a little bit different with the medium. “New Low” expands on the oft-repeated indie love triangle between a witty boy and the two very different girls that may or may not be interested in him. We’ve seen this before and we’ve seen it done better.

Wendell is balding, thin-lipped, and too skinny. Or, so says Vicky, his new girlfriend that derides him and then sleeps with him. Wendell would much rather be with Joanna, the environmentally conscious, Food Not Bombs organizing, volunteer that wants to shape Wendell into a better person. The problem is, does he deserve someone like Joanna? Or is he doomed to spend the rest of his life with assholes like Vicky.

All of the performances are much better than you’d expect from a plot like that. I especially enjoyed watching Jayme Ratzer manipulating Wendell at one moment and then being highly self-conscious the next. But, they needed more from the script to really break out in their roles. Bowers’ writing is full of funny one-liners, but everything in between is monotonously familiar. Small details, like the existence of a VHS rental store in 2009 are never addressed, and so come across as trendy anachronistic mistakes instead of adding texture to the story.

There have been a lot of historical films that have made the best of a tiny budget. Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” or Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” for example, created something new and different enough from the mainstream that they changed the way we think about independent film. When a film with a tiny budget attempts a very basic story like the one told in “New Low” without outstanding cinematography, style, or form, it just resonates as poorly made.

New Low
Directed and Written: Adam Bowers
Starring: Adam Bowers, Jayme Ratzer, Valerie Jones
USA, 82 min.

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