Director: Evald Johnson
Starring: John F. Schaffer, Gioia Marchese, Christina Diaz, Adam Lamb, Todd Patrick Breaugh, David Michie
Watching the new indie dramedy ‘Stan’, which just had its world premiere at the ongoing, 14th annual Dances With Films festival, one could be forgiven, if they were so inclined, for letting their mind wander and recall the title track of Ben Folds’ excellent ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’, in which he bemoans being “all alone in [his] white boy pain.” It’s not, after all, that the movie has no dramatic stakes, it’s just that they seem so small and quaint and, well, adorably solvable. A low-key effort, ‘Stan’ is more interested in eliciting smiles of knowing recognition than any real laughs, resulting in a movie of such willfully mild temperament as to sort of question its reason for existence.
The story centers on Stan (co-writer John F. Schaffer), a kindly, oafish guy who works at a small orchid greenhouse, occasionally visits a “happy endings” massage parlor, and then combats his metastasized guilt by making trips to a doctor to make sure his penis doesn’t bear any signs of herpetic infection. Mostly, though, Stan suffers the quiet indignities of being in “friendship alley” with Mary (Christina Diaz), a blonde babe who keeps him on standby while also dating jerky Nick (David Michie). When Ann (Gioia Marchese) shows up and gets a job at the greenhouse, she slowly draws Stan out of his shell a bit more, but remains inwardly frustrated with his dopey dedication to a girl not willing to give him any real romantic attention.
All of this could veer into more straightforward lonely-hearts dramatic territory, a la something like James Mangold’s ‘Heavy’, but for better or worse Shaffer and his co-writer, director Evald Johnson, eschew much heavy dramatic lifting. It’s quite nice that ‘Stan’ doesn’t have any forward-leaning over-emoting by actors seemingly trying to get some material for their demo reel, but the characters’ motivations overall seem ill-defined. Less than being just coy or relaxed, the filmmakers mostly step back from active engagement or tension, except for the awkward inclusion of a plot strand involving the pervy peeping Tom-ishness of Ann’s boss and boarder, Mr. Frankle (Todd Patrick Breaugh), which doesn’t seem to have a good reason for existing within this framework. There isn’t a deeper insight or emotional identification with Stan’s loneliness or self-loathing; he comes across merely as a guy kind of half-assing it through life.
To be fair, Schaffer’s amiable persona suits this tack of inquiry, which, as stated, is more interested in summoning forth recognition than drawing out laughs. With his quietly expressive eyes, unaffected yet halting speech pattern and propensity for socially sawing himself off at the knees, Schaffer’s Stan seems like a long-lost cousin of comedian Brian Posehn. And cinematographer Michael Off’s work abets this unfussy naturalism. After a while, though, you want to see this bear awake from his slumber, and release some pent-up aggression. After all, even ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’ had a song called “The Ascent of Stan.”
by Brent Simon