By Lawrence Wang | November 15, 2008

We all fear the past. Ghosts of who we were haunt us everyday, especially ghosts of who we were in high school. Whether you were the popular jock or the nerdy kid who hung out in the corner of the library — that person will always remain a piece of who you are no matter how much you may appear to have changed to others. “Hey Diddle Diddle” captures this fear beautifully and presents it with warmth, humour, and honesty.

Maxwell Sweetwater was fortunate enough to be the most likable and popular kid in high school. He was king. The superstar athlete with the golden smile and natural charm, nicknamed Mad Max for the crazy parties he would organize. Flash forward ten years later and we find Mr. Sweetwater (what a great name) on the floor of his apartment covered with flies and surrounded by piles of garbage. Not king anymore. Living with his best friend from elementary school, Maxwell is still a charming guy but nobody would be able to see that through his untamed facial hair and pot belly. It is fair to say Maxwell looks less like Kobe and more like ?uestlove these days. Maxwell is unemployed, haunted by an old flame and to add to his problems, looking his ten year high school reunion in the face. But lucky for him, he has truly good friends.

Maxwell’s friends have problems of their own, but that won’t stop them from trying to resurrect the champion that Maxwell once was and convince him to go to the reunion. Alex, Max’s best friend and roommate is a struggling musician on the verge of “breaking out” with his band and is also on the verge of being married to his celestial and highly emotional fiancee, Solyange. Alex is scared his dreams will disappear once he gets married and Solyange is afraid she will never be as important to Alex as his music. No matter what though, they are always there for Max and trying desperately to get him back on his feet. Julian, Max’s boisterous friend who was disliked back in high school and who’s only friend was Max is now a success, but still a failure at letting the past go. Needless to say they all have issues — but they all still are planning on attending the reunion. “Mad Max” however does not plan on going. He is scared to death of confronting his old flame Janet as conveyed by the involuntary sweat and shakes he gets every time he sees her, and he also has a crippling social disorder that kind of doesn’t go well with reunions. But with a little bit of help from his friends who whip him back in shape both physically and mentally and an old friend from the past, Katherine, who never gave up on him no matter how many times he has let her down — he manages to get to the reunion and surprises everybody and himself.

“Hey Diddle Diddle” is a genuine and touching film laced with moments of laughter and tears. Chester Jones III plays Maxwell Sweetwater with such delicate emotion and earnestness that it is a pure pleasure to watch him on screen. Chester Jones III actually transforms both physically and emotionally from the beginning of the film to the end. He pulls a Deniro and actually gained weight (or lost depending on if he was actually in shape at one point or another) to pull off his performance in the film. That is saying a lot considering the likes of Tom Hanks, Robert Deniro, and Renee Zellweger do it for millions of dollars and a chance at the Oscars. Considering that Jones III also wrote and directed Hey Diddle Diddle — I am truly amazed by this guy.

Alex C. Ferrill, who plays Alex Terry, reminds me of a young Ethan Hawke from Reality Bites and captures the anxieties of a musician dealing with the idea of settling down perfectly. Sarah E. Mathews also gives a notable performance as Katherine, displaying fear and confidence in the same strides. The key to all these great performances, however, is the fact that all the actors have wonderful chemistry together. All the scenes in this film feel real and that would not be possible if there was no chemistry between the actors. The cast honestly looks comfortable with each other. It also helps that Jones III has written dialogue that sounds natural and conveys humour and pain without hitting you over the head. As a director, Jones III crafts his story wonderfully with the perfect cutaways of city skylines and people just being people on the streets of New York — heightening the reality of this film further.

Yeah, some of the scenes are a little bit too long by today’s standards (the film clocks in at 122 minutes) — but I like a film that is not afraid to let its characters talk. What Chester Jones III has created here is a true gem of a film that reflects the anxieties we all have of not living up to the glory days of our past and does so with laugh-out-loud humour and honest emotion.

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