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The Talent Given Us (Unrated)

Release Date: June 17th (NYC-Angelika Film Center)
The Cast: Allen Wagner, Judy Wagner, Emily Wagner, Maggie Wagner, Judy Dixon, Billy Worth.
Directed by Andrew Wagner.

BASIC PREMISE: A 70 year-old New York married couple take a road trip with their two daughters out west to reunite with their incommunicative son.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: There are many pleasant surprises in this very ambitious, provocative film. First of all, the entire film feels like a documentary, especially because the director films his very own parents and sisters who essentially play a version of themselves. The digital handheld camera shows each scene with unflinching realism. The plot itself is more complex and unpredictable than the plot suggests. It is not simply a road movie---there are stops along with way that create conflict within the Wagner family. One such conflict is the husband's infidelity, both past and present. His wife threatens the divorce word more than once. Emily, their daughter, is hilarious as she tries to pull her family together by talking about things that are, at times, very shocking. What truly makes this film engaging to watch, though, is Judy Wagner, the charismatic, loving, witty and very likeable mother. She deals with a lot of problems without going crazy. Fortunately, there aren't any melodramatic or cheesy scenes thanks to the brisk pace that brings the family back on the road again before it can become a soap-opera.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The road adventure that this family goes through is also a spiritual adventure. The parents' desire to rekindle their relationship with their son is very heartwarming and uplifting. Each character has his or her own complex problems and personality---they all seem like real people rather than caricatures of real people. There's a good reason for that because of the director's relation to them, but there is still a very emotionally honest core to the film that is very rarely explored in films these days. Nothing is black in white in this film just like nothing is black in white in real life. The way that this mockumentary muddles the line between reality and fiction is very smart and even makes you think about your own relationship to your parents regardless of how old you are. The ending of the film is perfect without being shocking, predictable, cheesy or any of the other adjectives associated with a typical Hollywood film---which this is clearly not! It made me smile for days.



THE BOTTOM LINE: A very personal, ambitious, mockumentary/road trip movie with surprising honesty, engaging conflicts, and very complex, likeable characters. A rewarding experience for those who love independent cinema and, concurrently, it is a testament to the power and freedom of independent filmmakers.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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