There's a certain thrill in watching ultra-indie flicks.
When you sit down in a movie theatre and watch a $20-30 million film, you have to realize that you're not TRULY watching the actors, the director or the cinematography unfold. You're watching an edited, polished and re-polished version of these things.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, most of America seems to prefer it. Yet, for me, there's not much greater than sitting back and watching a low-budget, grassroots film come to life in the hands of a committed cast, a creative director, an authentic writer and a cinematographer with genuine vision.
It's beautiful to behold.
Such is the case with "Baystate Blues," an ultra-indie film written and directed by Massachusetts filmmaker Mark Lewis about a seemingly disintegrating couple in their 30's couple named Mike (Scott Lewis) and Devon (Allyson Sereboff). A few months before the film opens, Devon had been in a car accident that left her both emotionally and physically scarred.
The self-absorbed Devon and equally frustrated Mike essentially both withdraw into their own worlds, until Devon's chance meeting with an old friend (McKey Carpenter) leads to unexpected decisions by both she and Mike.
"Baystate Blues" is carried on the strength of Lewis's natural script and the intimate feeling of smalltown living he creates, a tone reminiscent of 2007's indie jewel "Midlothia."
In a writing style not too far removed from that of the Coen Brothers, Lewis presents us with multi-dimensional characters who are both good and bad. Yet, he does so without judging the characters for the way they are.
Within a few minutes of being introduced to both characters, it becomes abundantly clear that both are deeply hurting and deeply flawed human beings. Mike traditionally wears his emotions more outwardly, disguised as obnoxious irreverence. Devon, on the other hand, tends to be quieter and yet smolders within. Watching these two, as played by Lewis and Sereboff, try to connect is almost painful to observe.
As the film unfolds, Mike becomes quieter and more revelatory while, finally, Devon is unable to hold in her frustrations any longer.
Intelligently and with great insight, Scott Lewis avoids histrionics and grounds Mike with a richness that makes his development over the course of the film feel genuine and complete. Likewise, Sereboff's take on Devon is easily recognizable to anyone who has worked in the rehab field as the bubbling of emotional and physical traumas that come to the surface after a major injury.
As Devon's two visiting sisters, Sharon Maguire and Steffi Kammer offer nicely contrasting performances that blend together nicely. Maguire, as Virginia, is the more responsible and controlled sibling, while Kammer's Alex is adorably mischievous and seems to have much more going on underneath the surface. Both actresses offer fine performances, with Kammer's offering the film a tremendously natural and spirited depth in both her early scenes and later scenes with Mike.
As is true for most ultra-indie films, "Baystate Blues" is modestly impacted by the film's obviously low production budget. While the natural style of this filmmaking often works wonders for the performances, it hinders the action when the filmmaker resorts to numerous close-up shots early in the film and during occasional sound issues during the film's latter half. Lewis, whose previous film work has focussed largely in the areas of action and police dramas, would have been better off to have simply trusted the chemistry between his characters and avoided attempts at trick photography, slow tracking shots and other needless effects. "Baystate Blues" works as a human dramedy, and there are times when these tech issues hinder the effectiveness of the scene at hand.
On a very minor note, given that very few rehab experts are also film connoisseurs, I feel obliged to note that while Sereboff did a wonderful job of capturing the emotionally and physically wounded Devon's psyche' she was slightly off and inconsistent with her actual physical gait. It's an ever so slight observation given this writer's own physical disability, and acknowledging that very few others are likely to be bothered by it.
Modest production quibbles aside, "Baystate Blues" is a promising and intelligently written film from writer/director Mark Lewis with standout performances Scott Lewis, Allyson Sereboff and Steffi Kammer along with strong support by Sharon Maguire, Joe Tuttle and the rest of the supporting cast.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic