Declan Holmes (Matthew King) is a gifted screenwriter with a great deal of “potential,” but his life is at a standstill. He recently broke up with his fiancé, his dying father has no faith in his abilities, and he’s stuck trying to finish his script. The film opens with the following declaration, “I wanted to tell you about the night I wanted to kill myself…”
Declan is a graduating film student at a small college. He was selected to write one of the films the college will present at the upcoming film festival. The script is deeply personal, yet almost complete…almost. It’s the damn ending. Declan keeps returning to his ex-fiancé Katie (Brooke Bartolomeo) as his muse. She’s his ex for a reason and rebuffs his pleas. The rest of the film is the account of Declan’s slow emotional beatdown, ending on the ledge of a bridge overlooking a long fall.
Potential Inertia is a deeply personal story from writer/director Matt Croyle touching on the theme of accepting oneself, about finding one’s potential and passion in life and acting upon it. Thus the title, “Potential Inertia,” the lead character Declan is endowed with great potential but life has robbed him of any inertia to move forward. Croyle attempts to paint a profoundly emotional picture in Declan. As much as I hate to crush a personal story, the script has several significant shortcomings that keep the film from working.
“…the account of Declan’s slow emotional beatdown, ending on the ledge of a bridge overlooking a long fall.”
When telling a compelling emotional story, it is essential the audience connects emotionally with the protagonist, in this case, Declan. Connecting with the lead allows us to feel what he’s feeling and better understand the rash decisions he makes down the road. The problem with Potential Inertia is that the attempt to connect with Declan is accomplished in the wrong way.
There’s a saying “show, don’t tell.” Film is a visual medium and words and dialogue are less critical than many screenwriters realize. The prime example of this problem is the idea that Declan is a gifted writer. How do we know that Declan is a gifted writer? Everyone tells us he is, including his professor, his ex-girlfriend, sister, etc. There are moments when Declan waxes poetic to show off that gift, but as an audience, we’re forced to accept the fact because we’re told to. Finding Forrester is a great film shows it can be done and there’s not a lot of dialogue in that film.
The same problem holds true for Declan’s relationship with his father. We’re told his father doesn’t believe in his gifts, but on his deathbed, this father sees the light saying to him he was wrong. It’s just not enough.
Where Croyle gets it right is his through his relationship with ex-fiancee Katie. He sees her at the bar with another guy (as friends), then again at a party. Finally, he confronts at her house as he tells her he can’t write without her and begging just to talk. This works because we’ve been there with Declan’s breakup. I know I have. We’ve done stupid things, like Declan, to win back her/his love and failed and looked like a dope, just like Declan.
“…Film is a visual medium and words and dialogue are less critical than many screenwriters realize. “
Then Declan’s redemption at the end suffers the same fate as before with talking, talking, and more talking. The professor talks to Declan. The mystery person on the bridge talks to Declan and everything turns out right. Stop talking…show, don’t tell.
There are also some technical filmmaking problems that happen especially when film budgets are minuscule. There are inconsistencies with sound quality, surmising that most of the film’s dialogue was re-recorded in post-production. One right choice, Croyle made was shooting in black-and-white giving it a noir feel to it. This did enhance the emotional storytelling in a way that color could not do. The problem comes with shot framing, which becomes a bigger problem in black-and-white. I’m referring to simple things like tree branches coming out of an actor’s head. In black-and-white, it looks like the actor has a “tree-fro.”
It’s never easy reviewing films where it’s clear the filmmaker laid his heart out there, standing naked in front of an audience. You know he had something to say from his heart. On my end, you want to like it but you can’t. Potential Inertia has potential and it on the right track to success and just needed one or two more drafts.
Potential Inertia (2014) Written and directed by Matt Croyle. Starring Matthew King, Sarah Shawgo, Wes Wojtowicz, Paul Schermerhorn, Angie Spaziani, Brooke Bartolomeo.
4 out of 10 stars