Carving A Life

When it comes to bad movies, there are tiers. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is a bad movie, as is The Last Airbender, but these are still big-budget movies with casts and crews that are (mostly) at the top of their fields. Then there are the direct-to-DVD bad movies, the ones with Steven Seagal and Stone Cold Steve Austin filmed with a skeleton crew in Bulgaria or wherever, where it’s clear that nobody involved cared what the finished product looked like. But films of this second tier are still made by professionals. Then there’s the real bottom tier, the kind that can only be found at film festivals trying to fill a schedule. Some movies are so badly made, so beyond the pale of our conception of what qualifies as even watchable, that they can make for interesting viewing. Carving A Life is one of these movies.

I will give Carving A Life credit where it’s due: the premise is original, and the filmmakers deserve props for going where other filmmakers haven’t. Mitch (Tyler Bruhn) is a woodworker who marries Lauren (Karenessa LeGear), an elementary school teacher. Mitch seems like a good guy, but there are hints of past trauma in his life, and he keeps toxic friends like Eric (Sandi Todorovic) even as he gets deeper into his marriage. When Lauren announces that she’s pregnant, it sends Mitch into an alcoholic downward spiral.

Most movies about addiction focus on addicts who cut themselves off from close personal ties to feed their disease. I like that Carving A Life focuses on an alcoholic with family responsibilities who needs to change not just for his sake, but for the sake of his wife and unborn child. But while the premise is admirable, the execution can’t even get off the ground.

“When Lauren announces that she’s pregnant, it sends Mitch into an alcoholic downward spiral…”

Carving A Life was made on a shoestring budget, so its basic camerawork and flat acting could be forgiven if it weren’t for the script. One of the first things you learn in screenwriting classes and books is that writing is rewriting. No matter how good your ideas are, they need to be massaged and cut down into something coherent. Carving A Life feels like it got one draft and no second look. Here, for example, is a snippet of dialogue from Mitch and Lauren’s first date:

Lauren: I brought wine. Do you have an opener?
Mitch: I think so. I’m not really a big wine drinker.
Lauren: Oh, it’s a twist off, never mind.
Mitch: I don’t have glasses either. So, do you like fish?
Lauren: I’m a vegetarian, actually.
Mitch: Oh. Um, pasta. Pasta’s okay, right?
Lauren: Yes, pasta’s good.

Instead of carefully crafted character beats and performances, you get what feels like stream-of-consciousness mush like this throughout Carving A Life. These are sentences people might say to each other, but why put them in the movie? We barely know these people, so why would we care about what Mitch drinks or what Lauren eats?

“…feels like it got one draft and no second look…”

Sometimes the movie goes even further and undercuts whatever it’s trying to go for. At Mitch and Lauren’s meet-cute, Mitch comes off as a creep who flirts with customers who come into his shop. When Mitch gets drunk at Lauren’s teacher-of-the-year ceremony, Bruhn plays up his embarrassing behavior for laughs, and the movie doesn’t know whether the audience is supposed to chuckle or cringe. Then there’s Lauren’s announcement to Mitch that she’s pregnant (keep in mind that both of these people are supposed to be sympathetic characters):

Lauren: I’m pregnant.
Mitch: How’d that happen?
Lauren: I think you know.
Mitch: I thought we both said we didn’t want to have kids for a long time.
Lauren: I thought you’d be happy. I mean, we’re married, we love each other…what’s the problem?

Like many other conversations in Carving A Life, this one unintentionally emphasizes the fundamental problem in Mitch and Lauren’s marriage: not Mitch’s alcoholism, but the fact that they’re both terrible communicators who don’t know how to assert their needs or ask their partner for anything. Were they not using protection even though they didn’t want kids? Did Lauren go off her birth control without telling Mitch? What is happening? We will never know, and I get no sense that the filmmakers know or care. Instead of following the drama of the situation, I was fascinated and confounded by what passed for human behavior in this film.

For all the nonsense she’s forced to recite, LeGear gives a solid performance as Lauren. She brings the audience through Lauren’s flirtations, ambivalence, and depression, all through subtle glances and gestures with no help from the script. I would be interested in seeing her in something else. Everything else in this movie is best treated like a wild night out and erased from your memory.

Carving A Life (2017) Directed by Terry Ross, Written by Lisa Bruhn. Starring Tyler Bruhn, Karenessa LeGear, Aaron Landon Bornstein, Lisa Winans, Sandi Todorovic.

1 out of 5 stars

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