In Memory Of My Father Review
Showing that there is more to the American independent movie scene than geek love and inarticulate mumblecore, the debut directing feature written, produced and directed by actor Christopher Jaymes, demonstrates that is it possible to make a low-budget feature on Digital Video and also be smart, stylish and very, very funny. Not only however is the script of In Memory Of My Father razor sharp, brimming with intelligence, wit and profanity, but Jaymes shows that indie filmmaking doesn’t necessarily have to rely on non-professional actors either - and when the script is this good, you really want actors who are strong enough to deliver it with the appropriate sense of irony and comic timing.
The situation is a simple enough one of the dark secrets and the crisis that a wealthy and distinguished Hollywood family is plunged into with the death of its patriarch. Lying on his death bed, a once great Oscar winning movie director has asked his one of his sons to record his dying moments on camera. Christopher (Christopher Jaymes) dutifully, and not in the least bit reverentially, carries out the task with the assistance of his friend Matt (Matt Keeslar), but the intrusive and haphazard manner in which the dying moments of this major Hollywood figure are treated is not best appreciated by some of the close friends and relatives who turn up for his father’s wake, least of all the dead man’s young 26 year-old girlfriend Judy (Judy Greer).
The occasion of their father’s death inevitably plunges his three sons Christopher, Jeremy and Matt into a crisis, but it’s one that has clearly been brewing with each of them for quite a while. Christopher is still nursing a grudge from his childhood of his mother’s abandonment of their father to go and marry his brother, but the occasion of his father’s wake also brings him face-to-face with the ex-girlfriend Nicole (Nicholle Tom) who he claims he is “over”, but he is placed in an awkward situation when she meets the 17 year-old girl he is now hitting on. Embarking on a drug trip with Eric (Eric Michael Cole), the boyfriend of his cousin-stroke-step-sister Meadow (Meadow Sisto), Jeremy (Jeremy Sisto) tries to deal with the realisation that his wife may be having a lesbian affair. Matt (Matt Keeslar) meanwhile, locked in the bedroom with his dead father and Judy, finds he has an irresistible attraction to the young “widow”, but feeling repressed by his current girlfriend, he feels that he has to sort things out with her over the phone before he can do anything about these overpowering feelings.
The tone adopted here is not unlike Thomas Winterberg’s controversial Dogme standard-bearer Festen (The Celebration), striking the viewer from the outset with its transgressive and blackly comic sense of absurdity as the film crew fall over each other trying to record the last breath of an old, dying man. Where Festen however took a critical stance at the deep corruption of the Danish upper classes, In Memory Of My Father turns its gaze on the narcissism of the Hollywood lifestyle, where sex and drugs are freely available, and the family unit is equally a cause for dysfunctional behaviour. With all these sexual and emotional tensions building, the occasion of their father’s death and the gathering of family and friends provides ample opportunity for the inevitable meltdown that is to occur. But their father still has one more shock for them from beyond the grave.
But it’s not all sleaze and satire. There’s depth to the characterisation, each of the brother’s full-rounded characters with distinct and consistent personalities (the use of the actors own names suggests that they are probably drawing from their own personalities to some extent), but even secondary characters are well-defined, never appearing to be mere romantic-interest or conflict-generation devices to move the plot forward. The target of the over-privileged and over-indulged Hollywood Hills crowd with all their hang-ups and insecurities might appear an obvious target for satire, but like the work of Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen), Christopher Jaymes gets to the nature of dysfunction within artistic families, intelligently, credibly and with a great deal of wit and humour. Clearly a major new talent in the making, Jaymes’ debut feature is simply phenomenal.
In Memory Of My Father opens at the ICA in London on 6th June.