Jack. There’s a tough-as-s**t name. Direct. Hard. Won’t pussyfoot around. Sure there’s the soft nursery rhyme “Jack & Jill” and Jack Dawson in “Titanic”, but otherwise, there’s Jack. The Jack of this story (Jonathan David Sang), is the bartender of a seedy, college-town bar in New Brunswick, New Jersey, inspired by writer/director Alex Dawson’s experience of spending five years as the weekend barkeep of The Plum Street Pub, which he makes a big note of mentioning at the end. Jack’s got a compelling voice, one that tells you that you should listen to what he has to say and there’s a lot. With the camera facing him, like the bartender telling the story to a patron rather than the other way around, Jack introduces us to the regulars of this bar, telling us their stories, as well as his own. He used to work at Princeton, writing grant proposals and sometimes a speech for the college president. He then quit to write a book, but that was 10 years ago and he became a bartender. And he’s quite a bartender. He knows all the tics and personalities of the patrons, knows their situations as if they were yesterday’s sports scores, and keeps everything running nicely.
These other people are quite compelling. Angelo (Dave Dwyer) is an older man, who used to be involved in many free-for-all fights, but in looking at his face and his figure, you wouldn’t even know it. We meet Skippy (Joseph Prussak), loudly talking over the phone about a fight he was involved in, though with him, it doesn’t seem possible. A big black guy in kitchen whites at a restaurant vs. Skippy? Nope. Jack puts it into proper perspective by saying that it seems more like a story that Skippy picked up from Angelo and since Angelo has so many stories to share, he doesn’t call Skippy on the carpet about that one because he either doesn’t mind or he forgets.
So many hopeless souls line the bar as well, such as Bouncer Wes (Jeff Maschi) who once worked at this bar, but was fired for stealing cases of beer and placing them in the garbage dumpster in the back to pick up later after closing time. Rich (Brendan Conner) is the virgin bartender of this establishment, still living with his mother and thankfully, he works on the days that Jack doesn’t, but he drops by. Rich rants about the night he had in which he did the one thing Jack knows not to do: As a bartender, you never authorize violence. He also provides the most jarring moment in the movie when, describing a guy named Omar, pacing back and forth, he says Omar was like Darth Maul. In a stark black-and-white DV film like this, where the characters are understandably crude and tough, a Star Wars reference is the last thing that should ever come out of a character’s mouth.
You won’t find a single woman in this bar. No estrogen-soaked influences here. There is Grace (Amy Parlow) whom Jack becomes attracted to, but she might as well have been one of the men in the bar. She’s in, sticks around for a while, and she’s out, but she seems to lead Jack on as well. The nicest touch in the film doesn’t come from any of these characters, but from a “Wanted” flyer, seeking a 6-foot Mexican who, as explained to us, raped three college girls. The sketch of the suspect is actually that of an aged Charles Bronson, showing a man whom these guys would properly worship but with the wrinkles, comments on these guys whose times as tough guys is starting to pass. It starts with Angelo who only has the stories and down to Skippy, who really has nothing.
“Barman”, through these men, manages to show a budding talent who definitely has something here, along with actors who should be seen more often.