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The Independent Critic

Jason Schaver, Emily Wolf, Adam Breske, Ken Gayton, Bethany Carol, Walt Sloan, Jonathan Biver
Ken Gayton & Jason Schaver
80 Mins.
Independent/Adjusted Gratuity

 "S.O.L." Review 
What happens when a Chicago improv group blends together talent, inspiration, heart and humor?

Everybody's S.O.L.

The truth about S.O.L., the latest low budget indie feature from the funny folks comprising Chicago's Adjusted Gratuity improv troupe, is that the film is a terrific example of how talent, inspiration, heart and humor can help a film transcend its budgetary limitations when everyone's carrying the same vision and, well, when you have a couple of unique writers like Ken Gayton and Jason Schaver creating the dialogue.

Gayton and Schaver's first feature together, the entertaining and irreverent The Truth About Average Guys, is available on DVD through E1 Entertainment along with being available for viewing at Netflix and Blockbuster Online. The Truth About Average Guys enjoyed a successful run on the indie fest circuit and picked up several awards along the way. Look for a similar result with this low-budget jewel that blends irreverence, insight, heart, humor and downright silliness that should please anyone with an appreciation for the indie film fest circuit.

S.O.L., which recently had a fund-raising screening in Clinton, Iowa to help raise funds for the film's festival run, centers around Zach (Schaver), a down on his luck career obsessed comic whose girlfriend (Bethany Carol) is on her way out and whose career seems on its way down. When he runs into a couple of old friends who need a ride, Michael (Adam Breske) and Ryan (Ken Gayton), he suddenly finds himself smack dab in the middle of a bank robbery turned kidnapping involving a Hollywood starlet, Jenna (Emily Wolf).

As nearly anyone who has ever experienced live improv knows, a really great improv troupe can take a seemingly familiar subject or theme and turn it into some really hilarious s***. Trust me when I say that the folks at Adjusted Gratuity are truly gifted as writers, actors, directors and, of course, with obvious fits of improv hilarity.

Gayton and Schaver proved with The Truth About Average Guys that they're pretty much willing to tackle any subject matter, and the same holds true for S.O.L., a film that takes a hard look at serious life issues and laughs at them. A lot.

S.O.L. suffers a bit from some of the same issues that plagued The Truth About Average Guys, mainly a story that is, in fact, remarkably familiar and, of course, those pesky tech issues that will inevitably prove to be an obstacle for virtually any low-budget indie that lacks the funding to perfect the sound mix, the lighting mix and do constant reshoots every time something goes awry. While the sound issues, in particular, seem a little more obvious than they were in The Truth About Average Guys, much of this has to do with this film being a more adventurous and technically challenging production featuring quite a few outdoor shots, driving shots and generally unpredictable settings. Yet, for all these obstacles and occasional tech issues, S.O.L. shines precisely because it is such a spirited and adventurous production. Had cast and crew played this sucker safe, one gets the feeling that S.O.L. may have lost in spirit and energy what it might have gained with a slightly improved sound mix.

Then, there's the cast.

Schaver is nicely cast as Zach, a maddening mix of self-absorption and good intention whose ordinariness is rather extraordinary. While she's stuck with S.O.L.'s only true caricature as an airhead actress who has convinced herself of her cinematic greatness, Emily Wolf refuses to allow Jenna to become a caricature and infuses the stuck up b**** with just the perfect touch of humanity to make us want to go along with the ride.

As the two sibling bank robbers turned kidnappers, Ken Gayton and Adam Breske are an absolutely hilarious blend of brotherly rivalry and affection. To their credit and consistent with the tone of the film, Gayton and Breske manage to create two infinitely interesting and surprisingly sympathetic young men despite the seriousness of the situation. True to form, S.O.L. toys with a disability theme again as Breske nearly steals the film by adding rather amazing amounts of heart and humor as the obviously developmentally delayed younger brother, Michael. While many writers would go around the subject, Gayton and Schaver's script dives right in to stereotypical gimp humor, labels and challenges yet does so with true warmth and heart in the midst of everything.

Bethany Carol, Walt Sloan, Jonathan Biver and Michael Steen round out a solid supporting cast of players.

S.O.L. is just getting ready to start its festival tour and, unquestionably, this is one film I'll be anxious to see once it ends up on DVD to see how Gayton and Schaver have tweaked and edited it along the way. Modest tech issues aside, S.O.L. is destined to be yet another success story for Adjusted Gratuity and the Gayton/Schaver partnership.

Will someone please give these guys an actual budget to work with? Please?

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic