In Velvet Buzzsaw, the Netflix art-centric horror film, the paintings that may or may not be killing the characters are quite gorgeous and striking. In the Academy Award-winning, critically praised Once, the songs its two leads write and sing throughout are excellent and catchy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples of art-based movies whose art is exceptional.
Excluding projects whose point is that the art is not very good, the assurances of high quality put into these elements allows the audience to instantly understand the attraction everyone in those respective productions feels towards them. The Amateur (Or Revenge Of The Quadricorn) suffers immeasurably from its songs not being memorable in the slightest or very good.
Joey (Joey Baldwin) is a struggling singer/ songwriter living in Los Angeles. Inbetween bar gigs and drunken nights going home with the first lady he finds, Joey’s life seems a haze. He does, at least, take his music seriously, so to find the time to focus on his music while keeping himself afloat, Joey sells drugs. Joey signs on with a manager, Will George (John Ruby), to record his songs with a full band to help “take them to the next level.” Just as things are taking shape there, Joey receives a call from his sister.
Jessica (Marci Miller) informs him that their dad (Jere Burns) has been diagnosed with cancer. Joey flies back home for a weekend to be there for his family. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Joey starts seeing Fiamma (Carlotta Bosch) and things seem to click in place for the young, driftless man finally. However, infighting with his new band and a nonchalant attitude towards his manager’s suggestions threaten to pull everything Joey holds dear.
“Joey is a struggling singer/ songwriter living in Los Angeles.”
There are a few positives to be found in The Amateur, starting with the easygoing charm of the entire cast. Joey Baldwin’s oddly sweet, in a slacker sort of way. At his family’s home over the weekend, his dad catches Joey smoking weed. Their light back and forth is fun and naturalistic. Baldwin and Bosch, as his significant other, are quite good together as well. Joey goes to her place for dinner and brings a wine that was recommended to him by an employee at the store he bought it at. They both hate the wine, and their jokes at its expense are funny and charming.
Writer-director Carlton Sugarman balances the heavy dramatic stuff, such as a heart to heart between Joey and Jessica, with the more levity-minded scenes nicely. The way Joey utterly dismisses a woman very overtly hitting on him at the bar is quite amusing. Sugarman also doesn’t get too flashy during the musical moments, which fits perfectly with the low-key style of songs that are Baldwin’s wheelhouse.
However, as a writer, Sugarman is not as well balanced, with many scenes seemingly happening at random, or are rarely brought up again. When Joey flies home to be with his family in their time of need, it only adds false tension. While it is my favorite scene in the movie, as the cast are all having fun, and the dialogue is quite realistic, his dad’s cancer never factors back into the plot. Roughly an hour after that scene, Joey calls Jessica, and there is an offhanded comment about ongoing treatment. That is not the point of the call though, and this lack of follow through on such a dramatic event makes that entire subplot a waste of time.
The next few sentences will contain a very minuscule spoiler alert for The Amateur; so if you want to watch the film knowing only the basic outline of the plot, please skip to the next paragraph. At roughly the hour and 10-minute mark, a gang forces their way into Joey’s home and break his arm for selling drugs in their territory. Considering the film doesn’t even hit 90 minutes, there is not enough time for this turn of events to sink in with the viewer. Far more egregiously, though, is how little impact this has on the characters and plot. The confrontation happens after Joey, and the Jellybeans recently played for a record executive, so it does not add any sense of drama or tension. Nor is there any aftermath; the gang leaves and Joey plays his CD release party as planned. That is all that happens. Literally, the breaking of the main character’s arm, who is a musician, does not impact the story in any way. This is unforgivably dumb and like many scenes in the movie, is an ultimate waste of the audience’s time.
“…easygoing charm of the entire cast.”
Some of these issues could be forgiven if Joey’s music was worth the suffering the character goes through. But in all honesty, I hated all but one song. Nearing the 50-minute point, there is a montage set to one of Baldwin’s song; I enjoyed that song and only that song. Excluding numbers written and/ or performed by other musical acts in the film, there are 11 of Joey Baldwin’s songs. I greatly disliked all but the aforementioned one.
He has a soft voice that rarely sells the bigger emotional beats of the songs. More importantly, they are musically overproduced; this is especially true of the songs heard later in the movie. That little voice that fits neatly with an acoustic guitar gets lost in the bombastic backbeats and overblown guitar riffs added on from the recording sessions. This disconnect between the songs and the viewer kept me at arm’s length for the entire runtime of The Amateur, despite all the good qualities it does have going for it.
The Amateur (Or Revenge Of The Quadricorn) has a great cast and a director that is able to wring drama and humor out of the grounded musical tale in equal measure. However, very little of what happens affects any of the characters, and for a movie about a musician, the songs are mostly bad.
The Amateur (Or Revenge Of The Quadricorn) (2019) Directed by Carlton Sugarman. Written by Carlton Sugarman. Starring Joey Baldwin, Carlotta Bosch, Marci Miller, John Ruby, Jere Burns, Jeannetta Arnette.
4 out of 10 Guitars