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Thursday, February 15, 2018

BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME UP -- Movie Review by Porfle

Two chick-flick reviews in one month?  I think my masochistic tendencies have become inflamed by the dreaded inevitability of spring or something.  Good thing I watched the cannibal epic EATEN ALIVE between the two to help retain a semblance of (in)sanity. 

Still, BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME UP (2013) is amiably tolerable as an example of its genre, at least enough for me to get through it without actually jumping off a roof or anything.

Its male protagonist, former rock idol Ben Nelson (Ryan Schwartzman), is, on the other hand, so distraught that such a self-destructive course of action would come as no surprise.  (How's that for a segue?) 

Believed dead by his fans after some horrific accident, Ben has made the full slide into Skidsville to the point of selling both his super-strong pain meds and his prized guitar.

So what's left for him to do than move back in with his aspiring-actress sister Sam (Vanessa Rose Parker), with whom he has a volatile relationship, and her roommate, Ben's former lover Casey (real-life wife Jennica Schwartzman, RIDGE RUNNERS, PARKER'S ANCHOR) who still carries a torch for him despite having a boyfriend? 

Nothing potentially awkward about that--oh wait, yes there is.  In fact, the potential awkwardness of this arrangement will fuel the film's dramatic momentum like a speed freak on an exercise bike until the eventual fadeout. 

What happens in between is your usual romantic drama stuff, smartly directed (by Marc Hampson) and edited with a lean, flowing storytelling style that holds our interest throughout--visually anyway. 

The story itself is replete with moody passages, heart-to-heart talks, meaningful silences, cleansing outbursts of anger and frustration (along with bouts of big acting), bacon, purse pilfering, and lots of contemplation, all carried along by gentle acoustic music.

The seemingly idyllic, hugs 'n' empathy roommate relationship between Sam and Casey (who live in an impossibly luxurious house for women of their limited means) starts to erode in ways both predictable and unexpected, notably when Sam seethes with jealousy after Casey stumbles easily into an acting role that she herself has been working her rear end off to get.

Ben's arrival comes with a certain amount of suspense since we aren't even sure what's going on with him yet ourselves.  He remains closed off and distant at first, a mystery man whose past injuries and present emotional pain must be either dislodged or allowed to boil over on their own. 

Desperation, along with whatever all those brain scan flashbacks signify, have turned Ben into an unknown and quite probably unstable commodity.  All we know is that he's messed up, opaquely enigmatic, and wracked with fleeting flashbacks of those pesky brain scans and other bad things.

Will Ben ruin Casey's relationship with her current boyfriend? (She assures "Greg" he doesn't have anything to worry about, which means he definitely has something to worry about.)  Will Casey and Sam's "perfect roommates" status withstand the strain?

The characters look like real people, have first-world problems, and rarely get overly melodramatic about anything, which is good since some of the bigger acting scenes might've benefitted from one more take.

Funnily enough, the dialogue sounds most realistic when Sam's nagging Ben and Ben snaps back at her.  Things get amusingly awkward when the three of them are together, trying to be casually civil to  each other.  My favorite line is when Casey asks Ben, "Can we just skip the part about us being awkward about us, and just be friends?"

After all of this conflict and uncertainty simmers for about an hour and a half, the meandering storyline finally starts to draw itself together down the homestretch for a fairly interesting and somewhat trippy finale. 

BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME UP may not send everyone into paroxysms of rapture, but those who find emotional sustenance in this particular sort of storytelling should derive a generous dose of it here. 

Rent Or Buy It From Amazon Video


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