Joe (Joel Dickerson) has a problem. It seems that whenever he has an idea for a new sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror book, he’s been beaten to the punch by famous author Dean King. On top of that, Joe has a crush on his lesbian best friend, Wendy (Catherine Schulz), Joe’s filmmaker friend Pharaoh (Aki Jamal Durham), while alternately enjoying indie filmmaking success and disappointment, always seems to know precisely the wrong time to point out to Joe that his idea has already been done and Joe’s other friend, Stormy (Tom Figel) just wants to get drunk and f**k, or vice versa. As Joe’s ideas continue to pop up in Dean King books, eventually word-for-word, Joe begins a paranoid journey to figure out how Dean King is getting them, and how to stop it.
Jonathan R. Skocik’s The Idea Thief plays on a common fear that many artist’s have: that someone has already had their idea. For many, just the thought of not being original can cripple the artistic process. Couple that with the possibility that they are original, but are having their ideas stolen, and many a rational human will flip out.
In this scenario, though, there is the question of where the art truly comes from. What I mean by that is, was Joe writing his stories because he needed to tell them, or because he wanted recognition for them? One is an art that can exist regardless, the other has conditions. Under the obvious mystery of the film is this intriguing artistic consideration, and the film is at its best when Joe seriously ponders why he does what he does.
Where the film flounders, however, is in its attempt to cram too much in. While the plotline with Pharaoh eventually comes around to play a part in the final development of Joe, as does the plotline with Wendy, for much of the film they can seem like distractions from the main questions of who is stealing Joe’s ideas, and how are they doing it. However, while the these side narratives do have their pluses and maybe suffer from just too much attention, the most painful of all these distractions winds up being Joe’s friend Stormy.
Stormy is that character whose sole purpose is to be the crass comic relief. His job is to say outrageous things to hopefully get a chuckle out of the audience. Which, generally, is fine; it’s not uncommon for that abrasive personality to exist in comedies. The problem here is that the character never turns into that charming, mouthy rogue that so often makes characters like his work.
Instead, Stormy starts at obnoxious, and stays at obnoxious. The character isn’t helped by the performance, either. In quite a few conversation scenes, it appears that the actor portraying Stormy isn’t looking at whoever he’s acting opposite; instead he seems to be constantly glancing off-screen at… cue cards? A script?
Then again, eyelines in this film can be a little hard to pin down at times. The film is enamored with the three-quarter profile close-up; not quite straight on, not quite profile. In the case of Stormy, though, I don’t think it’s eyeline confusion; he’s looking at something off-screen.
Overall, The Idea Thief has an interesting thought at its core regarding artistic expression and creation for the sake of expression or for the sake of recognition. It’s intriguing and, when the film is allowed to work with it, winds up elevating the entire narrative. The question becomes whether this film needed almost two hours to get that idea out there, and to tell its story. For me, it feels like elements of the film were unnecessarily expanded to fill out the narrative, and thus the balance of the attention for the different storylines falls off course.
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