Kara (Dannikke Walkker) caught her boyfriend cheating, and she needs to get away from their shared apartment in Santa Monica, fast. Knowing her best friend Alex (Paul Haapaniemi) is looking to tour a school in San Francisco, she proposes a road trip (with the ulterior motive of also hunting down an ex-boyfriend who she feels might be the love that got away). Low on money and other supplies, the two nonetheless set out for Northern California, picking up a hitchhiker, Jonas (Brandon Willer), for good measure. As the three make their way up the coast, they ponder their lives, happiness, dancing and stealing, among many other things.
Even if the existential narrative didn’t bring it up, the black-and-white, cigarettes, sunglasses and surreality of The Racket Boys more than hints at a love for French New Wave. Even though we have a plot and the barest of goals (Alex to tour a school, Kara to find an ex, Jonas to… take a ride), the film is sometimes an excuse to play with filmmaking and make clever comments like “Why did I see myself with him? The same reason we see ourselves anywhere, I guess: we only have one set of eyes.” Which means this film is for a special type who likes their cinema more experimental and, for that matter, likes their films referred to as “cinema.”
If you’re not that type, the film could come across a bit too pretentious or pleased with itself. For better or worse, of course. For the most part, I enjoyed the way the film plays with the narrative, hopping within Kara’s brain for some sequences, exploring random acts of dancing in others, but I do get that it could be seen as too precious for its own good, such as the winking to the audience that this is, indeed, a film.
But credit is to be given for taking what is an indie film staple, the road trip film, and trying something bold and different. As Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish once remarked to me, it seems like every indie filmmaker’s first film nowadays is a variation on the road trip film (including his own feature, Omaha! The Movie). It makes sense to a certain extent, many young filmmakers are either finishing school or heading to more school, and what they’ve known of the world is what’s been around them and what they’ve consumed via film, music and TV. The road trip film is a sign of freedom and exploration, of new environs and of oneself, and is thus quite attractive to filmmakers starting out, as often the filmmakers have real life road trips as reference.
And here, it can somewhat be applied. I don’t know the history of the filmmakers enough to say whether this is a first endeavor, their ages or the like, but the signs are all there: homages to other cinema, exploring anxiety and happiness, wrapping it all up in a trip from Southern to Northern California… it feels somewhat routine as expressed above. Which, again, is why, at least, the filmmakers made bold choices in their attempt at the indie road trip genre.
I think the film is successful in evoking nostalgia for a different time in cinema, and I think the film looks quite good. The three main actors deliver on their roles, making The Racket Boys a pleasant experience, if not a particularly exceptional one. Some may find the film obnoxiously pretentious, but I don’t think it’s coming from a place that needs to be seen as intellectually frightening for the audience. I think it’s just another angle on a tried-and-true genre.
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