Frank (Dwayne Bartholomew) is in a rut of positives and negatives. While he may be the most charismatic wine salesman at the winery he works at, he’s also loathed by his co-workers and generally apathetic about the gig, habitually arriving late and heading home early. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, Charlene (Kristina Guerrero), but he knows she is cheating on him and has been unable to confront her about it. He desperately needs a housemate to keep from falling into foreclosure, and he’s got an interested party, but that person might be insane.
His life starts to change the day Brad (Shawn Parsons), the man Charlene is seeing behind his back, drops by the winery. An affable sort, Brad convinces Frank to go golfing with him, and an odd friendship is born. Meanwhile, the odd housemate-in-waiting, Jackford (Nathan Sapsford), breaks into Frank’s house and makes himself financially indispensable, much to Frank’s chagrin. With so much strangeness afoot, Frank decides to just go with it, and see where it takes him.
J. Rick Castañeda’s Cement Suitcase is a humorous romp through one man’s stilted life. Voiceover and other techniques continually break the fourth wall, while other stylistic flourishes create an almost whimsical aesthetic. Combined with the professional polish of the entire production, it’s high quality entertainment all around.
Much of the appeal is the performance of Bartholomew as Frank. Simultaneously charming and woeful, the performance creates a believable scenario where Charlene could fall for him, yet also think less enough about him to cheat behind his back. You get why she’d want to stick around, and why she’d want to bolt.
And the film commits to its sometimes dark sense of humor by keeping Frank the luckless king of his own pile of shit, even when he does seem to be getting his act together. The climax of the film is the perfect example of this, and one that likewise thumbs its nose at other, more life-affirming, dramedies. Is Frank now better off, or did he just screw up all over again?
In the end, Cement Suitcase is a fun comedy with a great look and feel. The narrative may have familiar elements (sad sacks getting their lives reinvigorated by the weirdos around them is nothing new), but it still manages to stay engaging and entertaining. A quality dramedy that strikes the perfect balance between funny and dramatic.
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