Independent Film Fest Boston starts tonight, so I thought I’d kick off my coverage with an early review of “Lonely Boy,” a film playing at the festival that I think is definitely worth checking out.
If you think "Silver Linings Playbook" takes an overly cutesy, unrealistic approach to mental illness, you’ll probably appreciate Dale Fabrigar’s indie drama "Lonely Boy." In this movie, there’s nothing humorous or endearing about mental disease, for the person who’s sick or the people who care about him.
"Lonely Boy" follows Franky (Alev Aydin) a schizophrenic young man stuck in a downward spiral. He's out of a job, he’s off his medication, and his sister Besty (Melora Waters) won't stop nagging him about everything. Franky is becoming increasingly detached from reality, lost in an imaginary world where he shares an apartment with his friend Jay and Jay's two kids. This surrogate family is a constant disruption, sabotaging all of Franky's attempts at normal daily human interactions.
The worst part about Franky's condition is that he knows these people aren't real. He also realizes that they prevent him from connecting with others; he just feels powerless to get them out of his life. That is until he meets Alex (Natalie Distler), the typical mysterious, indie free-spirit love interest, who is willing to give Franky a chance despite his odd behavior. His contact with Alex starts to give him hope that maybe he can finally connect with a real person and inspires unexpected moments of lucidity too.
One of the astute things that this film zeroes in on are the feelings of emotional frustration and isolation caused by mental illness. These sentiments aren't just suffered by Franky, they're ones mirrored by his sister Betsy, whose story is told in sharp parallel with his. Her anguish over her inability to help him and her constant distance from him is equally heartbreaking.
“Lonely Boy” doesn’t make light of mental disorder, however it does actually have fun with the concept. Fabrigar and his writer/star Alev Aydin find ways to play with the material. During Franky's manic episodes you see quick frenetic cuts to mimic his scattered thoughts and verbal tics, as well as frequent powerful zooms to magnify the intensity of his aggressive moods. There are also entertaining visual tricks that transition between what Franky sees and what everyone else does.
Additionally, Fabrigar and Aydin mess with your head by dropping hints that Alex might just be another one of Franky's hallucinations. They find a nice balance between the two possibilities, which constantly keeps you guessing. It's an amusing game that the filmmakers play, with a resolution that's thankfully left a bit open-ended, for you as the viewer to decide, what’s real and what isn't.
Aydin gives a passionate, convincing turn as Franky with zany energy that feels like one part Sam Rockwell and another Giovanni Ribisi. Waters is affecting and sympathetic too as Betsy, but the most shocking performance comes from supporting player Richard Riehle. Perhaps best known for his worrywart Tom in "Office Space," Riehle portrays Franky's cantankerous neighbor Mr. Fitz. While sharing a surprisingly deep, heartfelt conversation with Franky, Riehle's Mr. Fitz gives Franky some much needed tough love.
The most impressive aspect about "Lonely Boy" though, is how technically polished it is. The music, acting, cinematography, editing, and camerawork are all fantastic. “Lonely Boy” doesn't give the impression of a low budget, because it really seems like it was made with the precision of a larger one. Movies like this one show the merits of independent film, by proving that you don’t always need lots of money or big name actors to tell a great story.
My Grade: A...as in Amazing! A Must-Watch!
Lonely Boy will be screening at IFFBoston this Sunday, April 28th at 5:30pm at the Somerville Theatre. The festival runs from April 24 - 30, 2013. For more information, visit www.iffboston.org.