Road trip of self-discovery, or something ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, October 11, 2010

Road trip of self-discovery, or something

The Joshua Tapes
My rating:

I like writing nasty reviews. Sometimes it's the only satisfaction I'll get from a crappy movie that I spent good money on and that I knew was gonna be crappy. But sometimes I find myself in the curious position of writing an unfavourable review and taking pains to not make it nasty. The Joshua Tapes has a page on Facebook with notes from some of the cast and crew on their experiences making this film, and they are all so earnest and heartfelt (and articulate) that I can't find it in myself to snark all over them.

Because y'see, I really didn't like the movie at all.

Reza (Baki Zainal), Ryan (Phoon Chi Ho) and Ajeet (Matthew Ho Tien Li) are three friends on a road trip to the East Coast, a trip that was their friend Joshua's (Alfred Loh) idea. It was at Joshua's farewell party - hosted by Ryan's ex-girlfriend Sam (Grace Ng Fei Fen) - that he first proposed the trip as a last hurrah before he goes overseas for studies and they all go on to lead separate lives. As they drive through small towns and back roads, secrets and resentments and true feelings will be revealed - as well as the reason why Joshua himself isn't with them.

There have been precious few local English-language films made, which could account for why the whole film never quite felt natural to me. It could be because the acting is unpolished, albeit the cast all give game tries. It's very likely because screenwriters Lim Benji's and Priya Kulasagaran's dialogue is somewhat overwritten and occasionally gets terribly on-the-nose; case in point, when Ajeet and Ryan are guffawing over the supposedly hilarious story of why Reza isn't allowed to drive his own mum's Pajero, and then they ask him to tell the story again for the audience's benefit. But maybe it's just because, as I said, we so rarely hear Malaysian English on screen. Perhaps it's just that unfamiliarity that makes The Joshua Tapes feel slightly "off" to me.

But the main reason why I didn't like it is because I didn't like the characters. These guys are assholes. Right from the start, Ajeet and Reza are sniping and snarking at each other, such that I can hardly believe they were ever friends. Later, it turns out one of the deep dark secrets revealed on this trip is that Ajeet is suffering from depression and is cutting himself (on his back. How does one cut one's self on one's back?). Reza forces him to admit this, because... he cares? He's the kind of person who always tries to help others out of misguided concern? Um, no. Not buying it at all. 'Cos Reza seemed more of a malicious little bastard who took sadistic pleasure in dredging up and exposing Ajeet's pain. Who is this guy?? Who would want to go on a road trip with him??

And then there's Ryan. At first he seems the most level-headed one, always the peacemaker to the other two's bickering. But then we learn that his secret pain is that he resents Joshua getting into a relationship with his ex-girlfriend Sam and hiding it from him. Ex-girlfriend. Yes, I know there's an unspoken rule among male friends that you don't date your mate's ex - but I can't help but think Ryan reacted like a whiny little drama queen when he blew up over the matter. (Guys: it would've worked better if Sam were cheating on Ryan with Joshua.) And it doesn't help that it was Reza who so eagerly spilled the beans to Ryan - 'cos he's "looking out for his bro" konon - which just makes him more of a hateful little batu api.

Look, I don't mean for this review to so nitpicky. But the fact is, this story just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't like the characters. I didn't find them interesting or well-developed, and I couldn't care less if they came to a place of emotional truth or whatever their journey was meant to represent. I didn't laugh at the movie's attempts at humour; Ajeet's beer-addled banter isn't funny, nor are the private jokes between this bunch of friends, nor is the tonal dip into broad comedy during the bit with the "quirky" innkeeper (a cameo by co-screenwriter and co-director Lim). It's partly the writing, and partly the acting; as I mentioned, the cast all do their best, but I think most of them just never found the right tone for their characters.

Because the thing is, indie road movies of this sort are not easy to do well. They're popular with indie filmmakers, because all you need is a car and some picturesque locations - but to really pull off a journey of emotional discovery demands some A-game writing and acting. I admit I'm not a fan of indie road movies - but then I remembered that I enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine a lot. That's as good an entry in the genre as any, and sadly, The Joshua Tapes is nowhere near its level. For all that co-director Arivind Abraham and Lim and Priya and the folks at Perantauan Pictures had their hearts in the right places, I just didn't like the movie. Sorry guys, this is as non-nasty as I can get.

NEXT REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Expectations: I seriously need to watch the first one first


fadz said...

u shd watch the 1st one, its a damn classic..

oho, u dont like this one, ok, i believe u, ill skip!