Elliot (Will Dennis) is the next Jeff Bezos, and Kimmie (Kelsea Bauman-Murphy) is the next Wanda Sykes—at least in their own minds. Vanilla finds these two strangers on a road trip from New York to New Orleans as they attempt to sell a van and save their careers and dreams. On their excursion south, they find themselves involved in romantic endeavors that make their journey as awkward as it is interesting. As Elliot and Kimmie’s bond grows stronger, their business deal falls apart, straining said relationship. Is this new connection strong enough to withstand the difficulties of their trip? Or will the rising tensions cause it to perish like their hopes of selling the van?
With Vanilla, writer, director, and star, Will Dennis attempts to create a film that attracts audiences by way of comedy. His definition of comedy, however, is not one that the rest of the world necessarily appreciates or even understands. Dennis and Bauman-Murphy often create unbearably awkward moments that make audiences constantly reevaluate whether or not they admire the film. While nearly everything in the dialogue is cringe-worthy, I find humor in being uncomfortable. Dennis’s ability to have viewers laugh at themselves amid his storytelling is something I have never before experienced. It makes me feel that I am part of the story and that I somehow share in the film’s triumphs.
Vanilla’s saving grace is its ability for the audiences to relate to both Kimmie and Elliot. The two young go-getters crawl their way deeper into the hearts of the audience as the film progresses. As a result of their simple yet engaging stories, viewers can see bits of themselves in the struggles of the young couple, and the drive that each of them has as they work toward achieving their dreams.
“…a road trip from New York to New Orleans as they attempt to sell a van and save their careers and dreams.”
Kimmie’s candor resonates with viewers and allows them to understand that the hardships in their lives are shared with others all around the world. Viewers connect on many levels, and this connection is anything but vanilla. The film allows the viewer to appreciate themselves, as well as understand the struggles that they experience, better. Dennis makes sure to express his admiration for the daily struggles, as each one is a stepping stone in the journey to success.
Though the screenplay has serious pitfalls, ultimately, it is the writing that allows audiences to relate to the film. The acting is adequate, the sets admirable, and the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. However, the script, in all of its awkward cheesiness, finds ways to reach audiences, and that is a testament to Will Dennis. He constructed the story, wrote the script, and acts in the film. He is the reason Vanilla will mean anything at all to the audience members.
The film itself is, at best, adequate, but the hidden meaning and the connections the audiences are able to make are the light at the end of the tunnel and what makes the film bearable throughout a good portion of the story. Dennis has the talent, he just needs to find a way to make it more accessible to viewers if he plans to find success in the future.
"…viewers connect on many levels, and this connection is anything but vanilla."