The line between art and "hey, let's make a movie because we can!" is becoming increasingly blurred. Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick bought a couple cameras, made The Blair Witch Project, and then made back most of their production budget by returning the cameras for a refund. The film cost them around a handful of Mercedes to produce and made back its budget 300 times. Several years later, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau bought a couple digital cameras, rented a boat, and shot Open Water without the support of a major studio. Unknown actors got in the water with real sharks for hours upon hours, and the filmmaking duo edited the film on their home computer. It was another box office smash. And it continued the new trend of do-it-yourself filmmaking began by the likes of Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and that damn Burkitsville witch. It proved if you had the materials and talent, you didn't need a major studio's resources or funding.
In theory, this is great. The unachievable dream has become that much more achievable. The one-in-a-million chance for success tested and subjugated by a Michigan nerd who loved horror movies and made Evil Dead (and who currently rules Hollywood) is now the stuff of history.
Which brings us to a little film called To Jennifer, shot entirely on the iPhone 5 - a large part of the marketing platform. If it's the first time ever, I honestly don't know - but by film's end, it wouldn't have mattered if it were shot with the eye of God.
Your main character is Joey (Chuck Pappas). His girlfriend is cheating on him, or so he thinks. So he decides to make a video about catching her in the act, so he can give it to her. I'm...not sure why. Along for the ride is his cousin (and cameraman), Steve (James Cullen Bressack, also writer/director), and their mutual friend Martin (Jody Barton). Their video diary takes them across multiple states, a failed plane ride, a couple ugly confrontations, and the inevitable and obvious twist ending.
To Jennifer is every scene from The Goonies when all the kids shout over each other, loudly, and without mercy, only now that yelling is crammed with testosterone, profanity, and behavior that would make most people severely uncomfortable, but instead makes everyone giggle.
Because the film is shot on a phone, any attempt at direction is, at best, limited, and at worst, non-existent. There's only so much you can do to lend the film any kind of style. Due to this, the rather no-frills production will instead have to depend on the intrigue of the story and the power of its cast.
Speaking of, most of the cast does a fine job, at least at first. Pappas as Joey depends on your sympathy as he is your lead with a lot of baggage. He is the cuckolded boy of the story and should already have at least our attention, being that we've likely all been in his shoes and we know how much it blows. As the film progresses he veers into dangerous overacting territory, but being that his character is supposed to be on a somewhat downward spiral, it's not a detriment to the film.
Continuing on, major fucking props goes to fucking Cullen Bressack as Steve, who tries his fucking best to be as fucking obnoxious as possible, rattling the audio with his fucking bawdy laughter and his over-the-top "I'm a party animal!" demeanor. Count how how many fucking times he can cram "fuck" into his dialogue - astrophysicists can't count that high - while simultaneously being completely fucking unlikable. Watch as Joey sadly confesses that his girlfriend is cheating on him as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey has a nervous breakdown on a plane as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey lays in a hospital bed as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey gets his ass handed to him at a party as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey is clearly becoming more and more mentally unbalanced over the course of his descent as Steve laughs - hard and squeakily.
To Jennifer has an interesting concept - a sort of road movie where friends could bond and help one of their own get over a sad development - but this is a double-edged sword, because all you're seeing is a bunch of college kids hanging out and doing what college kids do: drink, smoke pot, go to parties, talk about mackin' wit girls, etc. An approach like To Jennifer should be as realistic as possible, I admit that, but it shouldn't be so realistically mundane that I begin to wonder why I'm watching these random videos on that iPhone I found at the bus stop.
But hey, what do I know? To Jennifer's Facebook page is covered in positive reviews. Perhaps other folks are seeing what I'm not. Perhaps I'm prejudiced against this next stage in filmmaking where all you need to make a film and have it distributed nationally is a cell phone. Perhaps I'm embittered because no one wants to give Don Coscarelli a few measly million to make Phantasm V, or that no one wants to fund any of John Carpenter's potential projects - you know, the man whose entire filmography is being remade and dumbed down in nearly their original order of release, to the "benefit" of the audience whose target age is decreasing year by year.
To Jennifer really could have been that next step in proving that a successful end result could be shot with something as simple as that thing in our pockets we used to use strictly for making phone calls. To Jennifer has a beginning, middle, end, actors, and makes use of available light quite handily. If your film is location heavy, intimate, and okay with the raw digital look, then this DIY approach really could be your new best friend if you're a filmmaker with a great concept and little money.
Sadly, To Jennifer seems more to be the result of kids who made a movie because they had a camera, rather than an original idea strong enough to withstand and complement its gimmick.