The Misguided

When watching a movie that just isn’t working, it can sometimes be difficult to suss out what exactly about this project drew in the actors or the producers. Did the director’s pitch entice them that much? Was it just to get some experience? But sometimes, when watching a movie, it becomes evident that reading the script was a much more intriguing experience than the end result. The story holds promise, the dialogue isn’t that bad, but there is something about the execution that is holding everything back.

Shannon Alexander’s feature-length debut, The Misguided, is one such film. The story reads like it would be very intense and powerful. Levi (Caleb Galati) is unemployed and has just been kicked out of his residence. Now living, rent-free with his half-brother Wendel (Steven J. Mihaljevich), while attempting to get back on his feet. Wendel is short-sighted, short-tempered, and only has a modest income due to his drug selling. Wendel’s ex-girlfriend, Sanja (Jasmine Nibali) stops by the house to pick up her car, which Wendel stole and plans to sell to a chop shop.

“…Sanja stops by the house to pick up her car, which Wendel stole and plans to sell to a chop shop.

Levi helps Vesna get the car back, and they start a relationship. Wendel keeps on with his self-destructive ways, so Levi and Sanja plan to leave the city, using her university funds. But Wendel ends up owing a lot of money to a drug dealer he was distributing for and tries to convince his brother to help him out of this sticky situation. Does Levi betray the love of his life? Does Wendel get his comeuppance?

That reads like a great setup for a rough-and-tumble, seedy drama about trying to escape the bottom rung of life. The Misguided has noble aspirations, but in its execution fails to bring any life to the proceedings. What really hampers the decent dialogue and story setup is the acting. Only one person can breathe a sense of life and urgency to their role. Katherine Langford plays Vensa, Sanja’s younger sister. If Langford’s name sounds familiar it is because she was cast as the lead on the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why (adapted from a book). Here, when she tells her parents that Sanaj’s new beau is doing cocaine and that the house overall had an icky vibe, it is the only time anyone sounds like they mean what they are saying.

“…the duality of that situation drowns Mihaljevich in a sea of confusion.”

Galati is saddled with a thankless role as Levi, who has virtually no backstory, so the reason he can’t find a job is a mystery (unless dropping out of college makes you persona non grata to all jobs everywhere), and the audience never sees him putting much effort into trying. Even with those limitations, he comes off as meek and awkward, never convincing as this supposedly intelligent, but misguided, person. It doesn’t help any that the chemistry between Galati and Nibali is horrendous. They act more like cousins making small talk at a family gathering as opposed to being soulmates for each other. That Jasmine Nibali sounds bored and listless, no matter what she’s saying, kills any chance the movie had at getting the audience to invest in the primary relationship presented in the film. When she first asks for her car back, her line reading is so monotone, one isn’t sure if she actually cares about the car at all.

The worst performance though has to Mihaljevich as Wendel. The character is a big dreamer, but also a low life thug, and the duality of that situation drowns Mihaljevich in a sea of confusion. Within the same scene, the dialogue will see him putting up that harder front, than relax around his brother and be more truthful and down to earth. However, he plays it like he is consistently on the verge of yelling every line just because he can. It makes the character impossible to relate to, or even understand his most basic motivations.

The cinematography and editing are competent, if unremarkable, and the score is pretty intense and carries the entirety of the emotional weight in its notes. Sadly, because Alexander’s handling of the cast, and just plain miscasting, every moment rings hollow.

The Misguided (2018) Written and directed by Shannon Alexander. Starring Caleb Galati, Steven J. Mihaljevich, Jasmine Nibali, Katherine Langford, Athan Bellos.

Grade: D

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