With Rita gone on yet another secretive business trip “up north” and no real job prospects to focus on, Russell takes it upon himself to – somewhat lazily, as is his nature – suss out what Gary is up to. Things, eventually, spiral into chaos and bloodshed, though in a much more outlandish way than the film’s Rear Window-esque setup might at first seem to point toward.
Laguna Ave has a sort of grit and chutzpah and anything-goes sensibility that no-budget indie films in the streaming era too often lack; its soundtrack is peppered with snarling punk rock tracks, and its ethos feels punk-influenced, as well. Papadeas’ script amusingly careens back-and-forth between scatological humor and anxiety-ridden technobabble about transhumanism and the singularity, and that intoxicated eclecticism carries over to the visuals, too. The film has eerie found-footage interludes, wacky fight scenes, an almost fetishistic eye for circuit boards and vintage electronics, and even a clever bit of scene transition using a digital progress-bar graphic.
“…a beguiling concoction of techno-paranoia, sophomoric humor, millennial aimlessness, casual violence, drugs, and low-fi comic-book-style action…”
As easy as it is to stay interested in where Laguna Ave‘s monochromatic fever dream is headed, however, it’s a little bit tougher to stay fully invested. Part of the issue is that Russell isn’t a terribly likable protagonist, and while Steinberg’s performance is consistent and committed, he’s a little too apathetic and pigheaded a character to root for as the story twists into increasingly more violent and amoral territory. The film also shunts aside or kills off a lot of its most appealing characters a little too early on, leaving them – along with the particulars of the corporate conspiracy narrative that’s hinted at throughout – frustratingly out of reach as Russell shrugs his way toward the film’s climax.
Still, every time Laguna Ave threatens to become something even remotely conventional, it manages to just get weirder – in a way that’s enjoyable rather than frustrating or off-putting. In some ways, it feels like a movie that’s very much of a piece with the technologically advanced, existentially confused era that we currently find ourselves in. Best to embrace the chaos, it suggests, since the ordinary doesn’t seem to be returning any time soon.
Laguna Ave screened at the 2021 Dances With Films.
"…gonzo energy and zig-zagging approach to tone and storytelling"