You can safely say this about the genre-bending feature Laguna Ave: there is no point at which it is obvious what’s going to happen in the next five minutes of runtime, let alone how it’ll all turn out in the end. Unpredictability, of course, doesn’t make for a compelling movie on its own. But, keeping an audience on its toes is no small accomplishment, and writer Paul Papadeas and director David Buchanan manage to pull that off pretty consistently from beginning to end.
Laguna Ave comes on like a 90s-era slacker comedy and goes out on a note of apocalyptic dread, whipping up a beguiling concoction of techno-paranoia, sophomoric humor, millennial aimlessness, casual violence, drugs, and low-fi comic-book-style action in between. If all of these ideas don’t entirely coalesce into a satisfying whole, its gonzo energy and zig-zagging approach to tone and storytelling make it a breezy watch nonetheless.
“Russell’s sleep is disrupted by some cacophonous metallic racket emanating from Gary’s apartment…”
Shot in black-and-white, the film is mostly set in and around a Los Angeles apartment building populated by a collection of affable oddballs. Our main character is the rather schlubby Russell (Russell Steinberg), an ex-musician who’s just been fired from what might be the most L.A. job imaginable: editing a spec reality show pilot for an obnoxious, washed-up former sitcom star. He lives with his supportive girlfriend Rita (Stephanie Brait), who works some kind of unexplained corporate job that has her regularly traveling for business and leaving Russell home to stew in the apartment. The highlight of their daily routine is drinks and gossip in the backyard with their eclectic bunch of neighbors. Those folks include Pierre (Dan Crane), a French expat who loves good wine and Jacques Brel, Cassandra (Jane Reardon), the resident busybody, and the lovably loopy, perpetually bathrobe-clad Dan (Zachary Taylor), a drug dealer who’s usually kind enough to not charge his fellow residents for his extensive selection of recreational pharmaceuticals.
This sitcom-esque ensemble is disrupted when a mysterious new neighbor moves into a downstairs apartment that’s already been the subject of much of their suspicious chitchat. Imposingly tall and impeccably dressed, Gary (Jamie Hall) has a first name that sounds normal and nonthreatening, but his nighttime activities and cagey demeanor suggest anything but. Russell’s sleep (though, interestingly, not Rita’s) is disrupted by some cacophonous metallic racket emanating from Gary’s apartment – and what, exactly, is in those overstuffed garbage bags that he and his occasionally cross-dressing compatriot Charlie (Sheridan Ward) keep unloading from his trunk?
"…gonzo energy and zig-zagging approach to tone and storytelling"