Picture a composite of The Fonz and George Michæl desperately trying to affect inklings of Matt Dillon in an overdone version of Rumble Fish, and you begin to get a mental image of Mr. John Vincent. You also get the sense that director Robert Celestino is stretching his protagonist thin in an attempt to portray all of his complexities and interests. However, I suppose over-stretched characters are always preferable to nonexistent ones (enter Travolta’s pathetic Battle Field earth persona.)
John (Mr. Vincent) is a myriad of personas: a struggling musician, a naïve lover recovering from a broken heart, a sensitive romantic that can still dish out rough banter with his Italian friends, an obsessed stalker and of course, a high-school English teacher. The English teacher angle is perhaps the most underdeveloped, and seems a feeble ploy to show John’s deeper understanding of the world. Celestino even begins his film by invoking The Great Gatsby, and Fitzgerald’s comment upon refusing the immorality of American society.
John Vincent’s America turns out to be late nights at Red Robin chain restaurants and dive bars that cater to his musical aspirations, allowing him to wail away horrendous lyrics on empty stages. His music is first fueled by a broken heart, then gets Michæl Bolton on us (lyrics only, no one would dare try to imitate his sound) once he begins to fall for an old acquaintance.
And fall for her he does. Or more accurately, Vincent begins a steady descent into the depths of uncontrollable obsession. The teacher who was once so at ease with his students that he would smoke in class, now retaliates with harsh barks at the most innocuous agitation. As he continues to slide down his romantic precipice, Mr. Vincent becomes unbearable to his lover, and eventually scares her into ostracizing him.
The acting in Mr. Vincent is a refreshing brand of verisimilitude and naturalness. There is rarely dialogue or movement too contrived for its own good, apart from the occasional jerkiness of action, and Frank John Hughes portrays Mr. Vincent with an intelligent informality. Celestino adroitly utilizes the combination of photography and montage to create an occasional gorgeous sequence that lucidly communicates the ideal love that exists in John’s head.
As a whole, Mr. Vincent is certainly above the majority of independent films in its class, and has already enjoyed playing at Sundance. It just isn’t beyond the distinction of honorable mention. The film is comparable to one of the simple three chord ballads Vincent strums upon his guitar; and of course everyone has a place in their heart for bad acoustic love music. As Vincent sings, “Somewhere in the distance, the distance that I know,” I couldn’t help but think this filmmaker may have a brilliant future somewhere down the road. Of course I couldn’t help but cringe at the nauseating refrain as well.