Despite never achieving the recognition or stardom of her fellow cast members, Amber Benson was an important part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the two and a half years during which her character, Tara, was featured. In fact, when she left the show, so did 15% of its audience. While most of the former Buffy stars have remained in strictly mainstream roles, Benson has done the opposite and chosen to plunge into the world of independent filmmaking. Her debut feature, Chance, described as a "screwball romantic comedy", was shot for only $25,000 during weekends and in between the filming of Seasons 5 and 6 of Buffy, but has so far failed to attract the attention of a distributor. Does this mean that the film is in fact not good enough to get a release? Read on and find out.
Chance (Amber Benson) is a jumble of conflicting emotions: highly-strung, argumentative, angry at the world, angry with her parents, angry with her friends... angry with everyone and everything, basically. She curses like a sailor, drinks, beds members of both sexes only to unceremoniously dump them... and so on. She shares her apartment with a young man named Simon (James Marsters)... or rather, he lives on her sofa and doesn't pay rent. The overall storyline of the film is quite vague: it's mostly about Chance getting angry and lashing out at others to hide her own insecurities. Along the way, we get a glimpse of his bizarre life, bizarre friends, bizarre family and bizarre philosophy on the world.
I have a feeling that this film will only really be of interested to Buffy viewers. The film is far too obscure and not professional enough to be appreciated much by anyone else, but Buffy fanatics will definitely enjoy seeing Amber Benson and James Marsters playing completely different characters from their regular roles on that particular show. Buffyverse fans should also recognize the voice (although probably not the face) of Andy Hallett, here playing the role of musician Jack, but better known as the green-skinned karaoke bar demon Lorne from Angel. Emma Caulfield (Anya in Buffy) was also originally supposed to make an appearance in the role of Heidi, Chance's father's 18-year-old mistress, but the footage recorded of her was accidentally erased and her scenes were reshot with Lara Boyd Rhodes in the role.
The film is structured non-linearly, and does little to conform to the generally accepted methods of cinematic storytelling. It lurches all over the place, going with what's interesting rather than what makes sense. In actual fact, very little of the 75-minute running time actually tells a coherent linear story. The film opens with Simon discovering the corpse of a woman (Tressa DiFiglia) in Chance's bed, then hops back in time to give the characters some back-story. There are a number of deviations along the way, including a subplot involving Chance's hippie parents and their marital crisis, which on the surface seems to have nothing to do with anything. This segment is probably the funniest in the entire film, and the character of Heidi had me on the floor with laughter. (Heidi: "I type." Chance: "You already told me that. But seriously, what do you do?" Long pause. Heidi: "I type. I can do like 25 words per minute.") After that, the film returns to the story of the dead woman. On the face of it, therefore, what appears to be the main plot gets little over 25 minutes of screen time. Overall, however, the central theme is Chance's quest to find "Mr. Right", and this story is told through other events rather than being presented in a more literal manner.
The acting is actually quite difficult to rate. At times, it's completely convincing, and with the help of the amateur photography it genuinely feels like you're spying on real people rather than watching actors performing. On other occasions, however, the acting comes across as quite forced. In all probability, this is at least party due to the script. It's a well-known fact that what looks good on paper does not necessarily sound all that great when spoken, and on more than a couple of occasions the actors have to spit out highly dubious dialogue, which hurts their credibility. Still, one thing that I feel sure about is that no-one could have played the character of Chance better than Amber Benson, flaws and all. It seems pretty clear that a good deal of Chance's character is based on her own opinions and insecurities, so it is difficult to tell where Chance ends and Amber begins. Benson may not be the greatest actor ever to grace the earth (sure, she's very talented, but there are plenty of actors out there who are better), but she's absolutely right for the role she plays here. James Marsters does his usual scenery-chewing, but he does it in such a way that it feels authentic. His presence here is a major coup for the film. Andy Hallett has talent too, but his character is not given enough development or screen time for him to truly shine. (He does get a great line, though: "Well, I'm pretty gay.")
It's actually quite difficult to work out where all of the $25,000 budget went. Not into production values, that's for sure. The entire film is shot on hand-held DV-cam, and the photography often looks more like a home video than a movie. Still, this adds something to Chance's charm, and it would be fair to say that there are occasional flashes of ingenuity among the wobbly camera moves and clumsy framing. The various scenes are nicely paced, and at times Benson seems to be attempting something more cinematic than the medium generally affords, with some nifty coloured lighting and odd camera angles.
The use of music in Chance is intriguing. The on-screen events are punctuated by songs performed by a man with a guitar (Grant Langston), who pops into frame music-video style to narrate the events. This begins over the opening credits (with a song written by Joss Whedon), and continues throughout the film. While the music has a twangy, unprofessional sound to it, the lyrics are often inspired, on the nose, risqué and genuinely funny.
At the end of the day, Chance is low budget, amateur filmmaking, and is at times clumsy, but Amber Benson has created a story where the inadequacies of the photography, sometimes clunky script and inconsistent acting are actually used to the film's advantage. These are flawed characters, and it is only fair that the film has the same kind of imperfections as its protagonists. While I don't expect Chance to appeal to many people outwith the Buffy circuit, it's an enjoyable and sometimes touching look at the life of a young woman who is, quite frankly, incredibly screwed up.
Note: The version I received has a PAL transfer. An NTSC version is also available and, being the format the film was shot in, will have better quality.
Chance is presented non-anamorphically in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film was shot on digital video and, as a result, is encoded interlaced. The quality is variable, with some noticeable artifacting, partly as a result of some very heavy noise reduction but not helped by the fact that this is an NTSC-to-PAL conversion. Overall the quality is acceptable given the source material - just don't go looking for demo material.
The audio mix presented is a straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Generally the source material doesn't do it any favours. It's pretty clear that the recording equipment was rather cheap, as the dialogue has a shrill, tinny quality, and sound effects come across as too quiet. Furthermore, raised voices have a habit of causing audio break-up. As with the video quality, it's serviceable provided you don't expect too much.
There are no subtitles.
The packaging is straightforward and bare-bones: a rather primitive but nevertheless interesting drawing on the front, and a collage of pictures and some text on the back. There is no insert.
Menu and Extras
There are no menus or extras of any kind on the disc. The film simply starts when you insert the disc and cuts to a black screen when it finishes.
The DVD comes with a poster signed by Amber Benson.
If you're interested in Chance, by all means go for it, but bear in mind that it is a little on the expensive side. Whether or not you can justify the price tag (close to £30!) depends on how much of a fanatic you are, but fans of this film's cast probably won't be disappointed.
If you're interested in buying a copy of Chance, you can order from the Chance web site (offers choice of PAL or NTSC) or Forbidden Planet (PAL only). With the US dollar as weak as it is right now, there isn't much difference in price.