Stuck in the limbo between high school and college, behind on her rent and in an on-again, off-again relationship with an older man, to say that Amy (Jenny Leona Di Gennaro) is having a rough time of it would be an understatement. When Amy’s grandmother dies, leaving behind a box of pictures of Amy’s long absent father, Amy becomes obsessed with tracking him down. And she does, with surprisingly relative ease.
A veteran of the Gulf War, Bill Cleaver (Karl Lentini) spends his days and nights on the streets, homeless. Suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia, Bill seems most focused on collecting bottles and cans for recycling. When his daughter Amy re-enters his life, he doesn’t recognize or know her, but Amy is determined to build a relationship with her estranged father.
Karl Lentini’s Cleaver’s Destiny is a dramatic film that tackles tough subject matter with a sometimes deft, but lighthearted, touch. Circumstances are almost never ideal, but you often forget how dire things can be when Amy is so emotionally invested in returning some sense of “normal” family to her life. Unfortunately, dementia isn’t on the same page as Amy’s plans, and while you never fear for Amy’s safety due to her father, you do fear for her mental well-being as he remains lost in his head.
From a technical viewpoint, the film looks solid enough. The cinematography isn’t going to win any awards, but it isn’t the type of visual distraction that makes you think less of the film. The audio, from time to time, is distracting, however. There are moments where the film feels overly ADR’d, with a false sense of voice. Sync seemed right-on, but the sound felt unnatural. Often these instances were accompanied by a strange aural ambiance, lacking the room tone that might fit the scene, as if the sound was recorded in a large tin can instead.
The narrative also starts to make less sense in the final third of the film, particularly when Amy finds herself on the outs with her roommate. Her actions wind up paralleling her father’s life, to an extent, and there’s an interesting symmetry there, if not a narrative necessity due to other elements of the plot. And that is what ultimately makes the film start to feel “off,” as, by that part in the story, considering some other developments almost immediately prior, it seems like an unnecessary decision forced because it might be more dramatic overall.
Which is a criticism that could work for almost the entire third act, from that moment on. It just all feels drawn out, like we had a story with growth and character arcs and… we’re still going, but not for the benefit of the overall tale. Some major developments occur in that final third, but they’re tainted because you never quite trust that they had to happen at all. Seems like most could’ve been avoided, or else something is missing; this could be an editorial structure issue as well as narrative, in that case.
Overall, though, the film does work, mostly bolstered by the performance of newcomer Jenny Leona Di Gennaro. Karl Lentini more than holds his own too, as the dementia-tormented Bill, and Alexis Corey’s turn as Amy’s actor-turned-fortune-teller mother is extremely entertaining. There’s more good here than not, simply. Cleaver’s Destiny may run low on momentum by its end, but it’s engaging enough, for long enough, that it still keeps your interest for most of its running time.
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