Walt (Jim Tavaré) owns the Los Angeles-based record store Essential Music. Lysette (Kate Dalton), Chris (Derek James Elstro), and Duane (Adam Weber), the employees of the flailing shop, spend their working hours sassing annoying customers while discussing various bands and their hopes for the future. All the while, Walt is desperately talking to banks, loan officers, and potential investors, anyone really, in a last-minute attempt to keep the lights on and the doors open.
Writer-director Mark Tompkins makes his debut as a writer and director with Warmed-Over Krautrock. Don’t worry, Lysette and Chris mock Duane’s little rant from which the title is derived, so odd though it might seem, it makes sense in context. While that plot synopsis is short, the lowkey dramedy is not propelled forward by action, instead choosing to be a character study of people whose lives are in flux. So, in that regard, how does the Singles meets Empire Records mixture turn out?
Pretty well overall. Tompkins has a lot of fun exploring the different angles of the music scene. Chris is trying to make it big with his band, while Duane has a pretentious take on every band to have ever existed, and Lysette appreciates lots of music and knows just what to say to sell any album to an unsuspecting customer. The core trio is a likable and engaging, if flawed, group of individuals. See, Lysette is unsure of what she wants out of life, Chris is insecure about his music, and Duane, well… he’s kind of a pompous windbag, but a likable one. The screenplay gives each of them time to breathe, and as such, they are all realistic, and audiences will be invested in everyone’s story.
“…the employees of the flailing shop spend their working hours sassing annoying customers…”
The directing isn’t showy, but it juggles the tone between the comedy—primarily the main characters making fun of each other or putting down frustratingly dumb customers— and the drama very well. Throughout Warmed-Over Krautrock, Tompkins finds the right balance between the two genres, which has tripped up many a more seasoned filmmaker, so it is a pleasant little surprise that the filmmaker pulls it off so well here. Lysette sells a customer a wretched rock album, under the guise of it being true underground music. He hates it and feels he’s been swindled. Every time he calls, she convinces him to see it from another angle. There’s a great punchline that stems from this ongoing gag, courtesy of Walt, after a very sweet heart-to-heart with Lysette. It feels organic and does not snuff the drama of what just happened.
Kate Dalton gives a fantastic performance, imbuing her role with fun charm and fear of the uncertain. A small speech she gives near the end just may leave some viewers with tears in their eyes. Elstro is charismatic and good-looking enough to easily pull off the seemingly cocksure Chris. He’s careful to never push the character into egomaniac territory, which could have easily happened with a different actor. Adam Weber has the toughest role, as Duane is obnoxious to the point of almost being off-putting. But, the thespian imbues the part with a sweetness that makes him more disarmingly confused than annoying, so the character is still relatable.
Warmed-Over Krautrock offers simple pleasures. The cast is good, the directing is subtle and effective, and the writing is mostly clever and amusing. If one has a headache, sit down and meet some new friends for an hour and 23 minutes, and by the end, that headache will have disappeared. While there is nothing grand about Tompkins’ debut, there is something to be said for the small joys it does offer.
"…a pleasant little surprise..."