In the interest of disclosure I feel I should point out that I am friends with one of the producers of this film, Adam Donaghey. I am also friends with Joe Swanberg who acts in the film and the writer/director (Frank V. Ross) is an acquaintance who I’ve hung out with on more than a few occasions. Obviously I don’t feel knowing these people has influenced my review, but I’ll leave that up to you, the reader, to decide.
“Audrey the Trainwreck” writer/director/editor Frank V. Ross has quietly built a very impressive film oeuvre over the last few years. While filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, Bob Byington, Aaron Katz and the Duplass Brothers share his sensibilities, they also take the lions share of the headlines as Ross diligently puts out solid indie efforts, one after the other. While I’m a fan of Ross’ previous films (“Hohokam” and “Present Company”) I have to admit I don’t always grasp what he’s getting at, but not in a bad way. Ross has a way of doing the ole bait and switch where you think his films are about the characters, their relationships and the abounding questions about their existence (and that’s there too), but there’s much, much more beneath the surface.
For instance and, spoiler alert, there is no Audrey in this film. Just as his second-to-previous film “Hohokam” had no actual “major prehistoric archaeological traditions of what is now the American Southwest” which is how Hohokam is defined. Similarly his last film “Present Company” focused on a young couple with a child that are anything but present in the company of one another. Ross has a way of playing with words and definitions and that bleeds onto the onscreen story as well.
“Audrey the Trainwreck” is ostensibly about quiet and fairly odd work cubicle dweller Ron Hogan (Baker) and his day to day life where he wakes up, showers, shaves, grabs coffee and a lottery ticket, punches in, works, punches out, has a beer, goes to bed, wakes up, rinses and repeats. He dates a few girls before taking a shine to Stacy (Wasser) but even connecting with her proves somewhat difficult. Ron’s life is bland as can be and it’s a tough sell to a potential girlfriend when you basically have nothing going on. Ron knows this and it frustrates him but rather than you know, do something about it, he frequently uses sweet roommate Scott (Rhodes) as a punching bag. Still, something has to give in Ron’s life and the film handles this angle well.
While there seems to be about thirty or more characters wandering in and out of the film, Wasser and Baker are the stand-outs. I’ve seen Baker’s work before and liked it very much but here he’s a very assured character actor whereas before, he seemed to be more focused on his characters inner dialogue. Alexi Wasser is also great as Stacy, a more realistic version of the hip, cute and cool pixie dreamgirl that we keep seeing in so many big indie films (see: Deschanel; Zooey and Portman; Natalie). Wasser, who was also really good in “Cabin Fever 2,” brings a nice mellow edge to Baker’s frazzled Ron. But again, like the work of Ross’ I’ve seen, there’s something aesthetically undercover going on that is noticeable but not entirely clear to the viewer. Yet there’s no way it’s not just as important to the overall narrative of the film.
For example; Ross’ films feature lots of human discharge. Blood, vomit and defecation have all appeared in previous works but please note, “Audrey the Trainwreck” is fairly free of those grosser visuals. When the blood appears here, it’s funny. Really funny. But the fixation on bodily function kind of, superimposed with the characters inner feelings is very cool, intriguing and worthy of discussion. Another thing I noted in “Audrey” was a vast array of random “things” hitting the floor. Jackets, banana peels and other “stuff” goes splat and I know there’s a reason for this but as I mentioned earlier, I just don’t know what it means.
But these questions are interesting ones, at least to me, and I want to know more about Ross’ motivations for these choices. Another clue to the secret of “Audrey the Trainwreck” might lie in the Robert Altman styled dialogue that is present throughout the film. Characters talk over one another and frequently, the sound design allows the viewer to eavesdrop on other conversations that have nothing really to do with the basic storyline, but again feel as though they are comparable. Are they? Is there some secret idea Ross is getting at that we need to unearth like some kind of ancient secret? Is Ross just f*****g with and is really full of s**t? I just don’t know. But the fact I’m still wondering these and many more things days after having seen “Audrey the Trainwreck” tells me Ross is a filmmaker to watch.