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Wake Up, Leonard

By Benjamin Franz | June 20, 2022

Wake Up, Leonard is a gloriously screwball exploration of one man’s aspirational attempt to achieve self-love on his birthday eve, which oddly coincides with Christmas. This offbeat comedy is a showcase of Nigel DeFriez, Kat Mills Martin, and Kira Pierson’s various artistic capacities, as they produce, co-wrote, and co-star in the film. Martin also makes her feature-length directorial debut here.

The opening shot lets us know it’s going to play in the space between consciousness and dreaming. Leonard (Nigel DeFriez) is on a grassy hillside, but his alarm clock violently awakes him. The main challenge Leonard faces all day long today is getting his vibe to “okay.” His sister Orla (Kira Pierson) is more than happy to help him out at times. The dynamic between the two resonates strongly as a quality sibling relationship, complete with its emotional turbulence and the truth that no matter what else happens, your sibling will always be there for you. Well, unless they’re dead in a ditch, of course.

There are some very funny gags in this self-described “self-help nightmare/comedy.” From Orla informing Leonard that his birthday eve is his “born identity,” a play off The Bourne Identity, to Leonard attempting to solicit dating advice from a tween, the filmmakers capture the gamut of life in Los Angeles county.

“…Leonard [attempts] to solicit dating advice from a tween…”

One of the more interesting notions explored in Wake Up, Leonard is how often people have to move from apartment to apartment. At the start, Leonard moves out of his most recent flat, and during the course of the story, his sister reinforces how nice the new place is. It’s as if Orla is attempting to suggest this is a good place to stay. Having lived in various large cities, I know all about the constant moving. The first year I worked for CUNY, I moved four times.

A liminal space is provided when Leonard visits his healer, Savannah (Kat Mills Martin). There, in the calm of his induced meditation, he is free to explore his inner lady space as well as just ramble along a quiet beach, the sound being furnished by crashing waves. This is an excellent dream space, and clearly, there’s little more refreshing than the seaside, as it provides the uncanny moment where everything becomes bright and happy for Leonard.

It is when Leonard decides to finally and awkwardly attempt to visit his ex, Christo (Kanoa Goo), that things return to the state of unsettled Leonard experienced in the first half of the movie. It seems a true story thread: nothing good ever comes of visiting your ex. Here, the most that is manifested between Leonard and Christo is a sense of pity.

So, if you’re looking for an off-kilter low-key Christmas film, which has really neat approaches to both Lalaland and new age self-help, Wake Up, Leonard is for you. Also, if you identify with Diane Lane in Under a Tuscan Sun, I strongly suspect you’re really going to enjoy this loopy exploration of one man’s attempts to vibe brilliantly.

Wake up, Leonard (2022)

Directed: Kat Mills Martin

Written: Kat Mills Martin, Nigel DeFriez, Kira Pierson

Starring: Nigel DeFriez, Kira Pierson, Kat Mills Martin, Kanoa Goo, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

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"…you're really going to enjoy this loopy exploration..."

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