Title: From the Head
Director: George Griffith
Starring: George Griffith, Samantha Lemole, Ahna O’Reilly, Matthew Lillard, Jon Polito, Jeffrey Doornbos
A movie of considerable if to-scale surprises, micro-budgeted indie “From the Head” invites a certain amount of snickering and lowered expectation going in, touted as it is, in punny fashion, as the directorial debut of a “veteran strip club bathroom attendant,” and set in the very same arena of his experience. Yet as far as movies located almost entirely inside a bathroom go, this one is light years better than Hunter Richards’ insipid “London,” starring Jessica Biel and Chris Evans. Written, directed by and starring George Griffith, “From the Head” is an intriguing pop-psychology character study — a movie of minor revelations but shrewd behavioral observations.
Unfolding over the course of one evening in 1995 New York City (though the year seemingly makes no discernible difference, except for the lack of cell phones), the movie stars Griffith as Shoes, a bathroom attendant at a fairly respectable strip club. Between handing out paper towels and having folks bringing him shots, Shoes doesn’t much have time for his yo-yo and well-worn Samuel Beckett book but there they are with him, tucked away in the corner. His chief aim and concern, of course, is prying tips out of the (frequently tipsy) patrons who wander in to take a leak. While sharing jokes, advice and a smoke with the dozens of these customers (including Matthew Lillard, Jon Polito and Jeffrey Doornbos) who cycle in and out, Shoes also pleads with the matriarch of the strippers, Ruby (Samantha Lemole), to stop sharing that this particular night represents his third anniversary of employment.
There are more than a few moments of armchair philosophizing herein (“Everybody hits the ‘What-am-I-doing-here?’ monologue if they stay here long enough,” Shoes tells one guy), but “From the Head” is basically a giant grab-bag of accumulated details and occurrences — of conversational riffs and small moments of pique, compassion or practical advice, like counseling a married guy not to try a new cologne. In many respects, the movie most impresses in its steadfast avoidance of ante-upping dramatic gambits (hey, it’s even 65 minutes before anyone barfs). Things happen, and there are telling character moments, but there isn’t any dynamic plot, per se. Shoes can be flippant if he feels the moment deserves it (“Same tits, different day”), but in general he’s overwhelmingly subdued, and thus something of an interesting Rorschach for viewers, who may find different interpretation in his demeanor.
The film’s staging — its flow of customers, and general rhythm — is handled quite well. While cinematographer Martin Matiasek tries to do some interesting things with color and lighting during a few moments, and in some respects succeeds, overall “From the Head” still feels boxed in by the bathroom’s dimensions, and drab set decoration.
Griffith, though, has a great presence. His tight smile and socially appropriate, slightly askance gaze — combined with the litany of patter, tailored in smart, quick ways to how he sizes up incoming visitors — reveals that, clearly, he knows of what he writes, both anecdotally and in feeling. But there’s also a centeredness to him that would seem to translate well to other roles. Griffith doesn’t feel the need to trade in cheap demonstrativeness; his Shoes is well-worn, but honestly so.
NOTE: For more information, visit www.FromTheHead.com.
Written by: Brent Simon