Writer-director: Steve Garrett
Starring: Jerad Anderson, Monica Pitpit, Steve Garrett, Renee Victor, Joseph Raymond Lucero, Janna Bossier
A world premiere, in-competition title at the just underway, 14th annual Dances With Films festival, writer-director Steve Garrett’s Wake is a rangy, philosophically-tinged drama that connects mostly on the value of its production design, which gives the movie a certain grungy Venice Beach authenticity.
For a while it looks as though Wake may be a low-fi companion piece to Lords of Dogtown, chronicling the local skate scene. Bobby (Jerad Anderson) is a talented but emotionally isolated skater who’s trying to scrape together enough money to procure a better life for his stripper girlfriend Carmen (Monica Pitpit), and her little kid from a previous relationship. Unfortunately, her psychotic ex, Tony (Joseph Raymond Lucero), is still in the picture, and not always at the discouragement of Carmen. Lacking sponsorship deals, and facing pressure from Carmen, Bobby is forced to attempt a series of dangerous jumps for pay. One of them goes awry, paralyzing him from the waist down.
When he gets out of the hospital, Bobby goes to live with Carmen’s grandmother, Chelo (Renee Victor), and ponders what he’s going to do with his life. While there, he’s witness to a backyard brawl involving Tony, and gives assistance to a seriously wounded guy, seemingly healing him. This catches the attention of Father Tom (writer-director Garrett, pulling triple duty), who believes that Bobby has been divinely blessed with the ability to heal the sick and wounded.
In this regard, Wake is very much of a piece with the recently released Sympathy For Delicious, in which a cynical paraplegic (Christopher Thornton) fitfully connects and withdrawals from a skid-row priest (Mark Ruffalo) trying to similarly channel (some would say exploit) his faith-healing gifts. One of the differences is that in Wake, though, Bobby is actually able to heal himself, and so in short order he’s standing, walking, and then even skating again. While Father Tom pushes for him to continue using his gifts, though — including to benefit Paula (Janna Bossier), a young girl stricken with some vague terminal illness — Bobby is more concerned with recapturing his burgeoning skating career.
Working in HD video, cinematographer Sacha Riviere captures a fair amount of nice outdoor images, and he and Garrett bring to bear their ample commercial experience to convey a realistic backdrop, and also showcase the movie’s skating bits in a way that is engaging without being ostentatious. Anderson, too, has a nice, relaxed screen presence. While a lot of young actors would attempt to overdial the emotion, he never gets too high or too low.
Still, Wake isn’t rigorous enough in its plotting, design and execution to really sink its emotional hooks into an audience. Despite eventually delving a bit into Bobby’s past, the movie doesn’t convincingly explain his connection to Carmen and her pathology. She’s not the most obvious or sensible choice for a girlfriend and Bobby isn’t sketched or played as quite a guarded and/or wounded enough character to be hanging on to her as a sort of romantic life raft. And while the story covers a lot of ground, the ways its pieces fit together don’t always make immediate sense, and the film’s end twist isn’t the knockout blow its creators believe it to be.
Written by: Brent Simon