I have to be honest.
I didn't hold out a lot of hope for Proper Binge.
I mean, don't get me wrong. I didn't start off with a bias. I wanted Proper Binge to be good. I wanted Proper Binge to be really good. However, when I looked at the story I just found myself envisioning yet another indie flick desperately trying to be a whole hell of a lot more insightful than it really was.
I was wrong.
From the opening moments of Proper Binge, I was hooked into the story of Burgess "Buzz" Zwink (Bradford Jackson), a 32-year-old man still living in the family home and pretty much not amounting to anything. Buzz lives his life in a constant drunken stupor, his nearly constant drinking causing a nearly irreparable chasm with girlfriend Brianna (Cassandre Leigh) and a growing number of burned out and worn down friends including Jason (Berick Cook), who suffers perhaps more than anyone from Buzz's constant, well, buzz.
When one particular night goes wildly awry, Buzz is forced to confront the reality of the choices he has made and the people that he has hurt along the way. Forcing himself into sobriety, Buzz begins to realize just how much pain he has caused to those around him and just how much that pain has had a rippling effect. With the help of Alex (D'Artagnon Moonin), a young Inupiaq boy, and Henrik (Thomas G. Jacobs), a homeless alcoholic con-man, Buzz begins to confront a life filled with bad choices and people he's hurt and the stops and starts and stops again when wasting life becomes a way of life.
The film soars on the strength of a top notch ensemble cast led charismatically by Bradford Jackson, whose turn as Buzz is incredibly natural and, at times, just plain difficult to watch. Looking at times like Ryan Reynolds if Ryan Reynolds decided not to shave for about 17 days, Jackson embodies the impossible to resist magnetism so often found in someone who desperately needs to recover yet whose presence in our lives makes it difficult to set the boundaries necessary to really push the issue. Proper Binge doesn't give us a prettied up version of a raging alcoholic, never holding back from the putting on full display the physical and emotional costs of such a life. To his credit, Jackson makes Buzz a strangely likable guy, an intimacy that puts us in seats right alongside his friends and family as they watch their loved one wasting away. Jackson's is truly a top notch performance and one can only hope that this film leads to even greater opportunities for the gifted actor.
The even better news for Proper Binge is that the rest of the ensemble is also incredibly strong. Cassandre Leigh ably presents the impossible hopes and dreams of a girlfriend who desperately tries to hang in there far beyond what is remotely healthy, while Ron Holstrom is quietly riveting as Brianna's father, who has allowed Buzz to live with them for far too long but who powerfully presents the lengths that loved ones eventually go to in an effort to preserve some sense of normalcy. As one of Buzz's friends, Jeremy Blake makes a strong turn while Berick Cook is so strong as Jason that he practically deserves his own film. Young D'Artagnon Moonin plays a young man perhaps wiser than anyone on the screen, while Thomas G. Jacobs and Cheyenne Buchanan round out a truly excellent ensemble cast.
Co-written and directed by Dean Q. Mitchell and Michael Burns, Proper Binge is an intentional dark, raw story that is still grounded in nicely paced, thematically appropriate pieces of humor, often quite dark, and the two do an excellent job of balancing the raw with the riveting, the ample conflicts with the moments of comforting intimacy. Mackenzie Banbury's lensing unflinching and often captures the regular consequences of Buzz's behavior, consequences that are deeply honest, frequently painful, and more often than not seem to leave some dandy scars.
Kudos also need to go to the music contributed by Gabe Castro and Spaz, aka Thomas S. Hill, as it wonderfully rides the rhythm of the film.
Proper Binge recently had its world premiere at the Anchorage International Film Festival, an appropriate way to begin what should be a successful festival run for the Alaska-based filmmakers. At times incredibly painful to watch yet nearly always impossible to not watch, Proper Binge is that rare indie flick that grounds itself in the harsh realities of life yet does so with such honesty and authenticity that you don't want to turn away from the screen because these are people we come to care about.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic