Go to a few film festivals and you’ll notice certain trends in the films you see there. Without getting into an exhaustive list, I’ll cut straight to describing Michael Traeger’s “The Amateurs” which fits a certain festival niche. “The Amateurs” is your prototypical festival film that wants to be much, much more. With dreams of becoming a “Little Miss Sunshine” or a “Juno” (although this film was made before those two examples… but the shoe fits) it adds a big star or two, swims in faux-edgy material and tries to play bigger than the festival circuit in a dire attempt to be the next break out hit. Yet rather than focus on being, you know, interesting, it tries so hard to be buzz worthy and star-studded, it gets all wrapped up in the wrong areas. “The Amateurs” is exactly this kind of film. Perhaps the blatant attempts to be clever and far reaching are some reasons why the film has gone through a few name changes and is just now finding it’s way to the rental market after being completed in 2005. That and the fact that it’s just not a very good film.
“The Amateurs” has a funny, simple and unique premise. A down-on-his-luck local named Andy (Bridges) is constantly trying to find a way to make a quick buck. He’s a nice guy who’s loved by the townsfolk so they always find a few extra bucks to donate as well as their time to Andy’s half-baked, get rich quick schemes. After a long sit and think in the local pub, Andy gets an idea that can’t fail: enlist the town folk to make a porno. Hey, sex sells and Andy figures an adult film is cheap to make and has a large back-end (yuk, yuk…don’t worry the film never tires of that joke either) so how can they fail? I’ll tell you how. By trying to make a film that follows screenwriting 101 and insists upon being cloyingly cutesy so often you can literally guess how each plot line will play out.
Writer director Michael Traeger is either the most popular guy in Hollywood or he owns the largest collection of celebrity skeletons in closets because I don’t know how he got this cast. “The Amateurs” stars Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Joe Pantoliano, Patrick Fugit, Ted Danson, Lauren Graham, William Fichtner, John Hawkes and Jeanne Tripplehorn and they’re all really pretty good. I think Bridges has reached that point in his career where he can do no wrong and I had totally forgot Joe Pantoliano can do much more than be a smartass wiseguy. Here he’s outstanding and subtle as a character named “Some Idiot” which is another apparent attempt to get more laughs, something this film never tires of. Speaking of character names, here’s a tip: only bad movies have people named Moe, Barney, Floyd and Emmett in them. Don’t believe me? How many people named those names do you personally know in real life?
While I could go on about the cheesy playground humor, dated names for penis, vagina and sex, textbook examples of how to develop un-interesting characters and the shoddy looking DV “The Amateurs” is shot on, I’ll stop now. After all, the film isn’t exactly terrible as much as it is a trifle with a high pedigree of actors featured on its box cover.