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Friday, April 11, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Breakfast With Curtis

Posted By on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 4:50 PM

click image Curtis helps Syd become internet famous. - FILM INDEPENDENT
  • Film Independent
  • Curtis helps Syd become internet famous.

This week in movies you missed:
Want to know how to make an acclaimed indie flick on the cheap? Ask Laura Colella, faculty chair of the Vermont College of Fine Arts' MFA program in film.

Colella shot Breakfast With Curtis, her third feature, literally in her backyard. The cast members were her friends and neighbors — fellow residents of a three-story house in Providence, R.I., informally known as the Purple Citadel. Having missed a couple of sold-out screenings of Breakfast in Montpelier, I recently caught Colella's flick on Netflix Instant (it's also on Amazon Instant).

But first, a timely word about VCFA: If you love film, you don't have to be a student in the college's low-residency MFA program to reap its benefits. Twice a year, VCFA brings working filmmakers — including big names — to screen and discuss their work at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier.

These events are free and open to the public, but tickets go fast — or they certainly did when John Turturro visited last year. This year, you can catch a Skype session with Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) and meet Debra Granik, director of Winter's Bone, who gave teenage Jennifer Lawrence the showcase that made her a star. More info here.

Now, back to Colella's film.

What You Missed

Syd (Theo Green), a micro-publisher and all-around self-important, underemployed artsy fellow, has a fondness for red wine and a genius for alienating his neighbors. It starts when Syd threatens to murder 9-year-old Curtis (Gideon Parker) for allegedly tossing a stone at his cat, Dijon.

Five years later, Curtis has become a sullen, withdrawn teen (Jonah Parker) who avoids even looking in Syd's direction. But Curtis has something Syd wants: digital video skills. Eager for exposure, Syd — who likes to refer to the net as ISH, or the internet superhighway — enlists the lad to make him the star of a web series.

Over a long, lush summer, this unlikely project draws the motley residents of the Purple Citadel into closer proximity with Curtis' more conventional family next door. There's sharp-tongued retired teacher Sadie, the supple couple in the attic (Colella and professional dancer Aaron Jungels) and Syd and his boho younger girlfriend, Pirate (Adele Parker). The only character with a nine-to-five is Curtis' yuppie dad (David Parker), who likes to indulge a taste for Pirate's weed, unbeknownst to his wife (Virginia Laffey). But she's got a few secrets of her own.

Why You Missed It

Breakfast With Curtis premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and went on to play two U.S. theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Once again, here's my 20-point, highly scientific scale for the assessment of indie films.

1-4 points: Does it look pretty?

3/4. For a film with one basic location, yes. So flourishing is the backyard of the Purple Citadel that I was convinced the film took place in the Bay Area until suddenly winter came and snow fell. Colella captures the flowers, the foliage, the atmosphere of lazy summer days.

1-4 points: Does anything happen?

2/4. Almost nothing — but I was pretty OK with that.

I created this criterion because I don't like it when indie filmmakers try to coast on whimsy, atmosphere and pretty shooting, hoping we won't notice the flimsiness of their plot and characters. Breakfast has almost no plot, but as a character study, it works. Like the '80s classic Diner, it's really a movie about a group of people hanging out and shooting the breeze. And their hanging out is surprisingly entertaining.

1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?

4/4. To the extent that anything happens, yup. Nothing offended my sense of probability, and Colella doesn't attempt to tack cheesy epiphanies onto the end of her light, comic slice of urban-boho life.

1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?

4/4. I've lived in Cambridge. I've lived in Berkeley. I've lived in Burlington. I've met dozens, perhaps hundreds, of guys like Syd. Ask them about the '60s or their youthful travels in Europe, and you might find yourself sharing several bottles of red wine — if your tolerance for blowhards holds out.

Colella and Green absolutely nail this particular sociocultural type for posterity. But the film's real achievement is that, by the end, I found myself liking Syd. So, I think, does Curtis, who has every reason not to.

When Hollywood comedies portray arty or counterculture types, they typically reveal themselves to be way out of touch. (I'd say the same of Woody Allen's recent movies, which read like plays written in 1970.) So Colella gets points just for depicting this particular social segment — to which many of us alt-weekly writers and readers belong — with humor and accuracy. The movie recalls Noah Baumbach, but with a sweeter spirit than most of his work.

1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?

3/4. Some movies are about saving the world. And some movies are about saving the unspoken social contract that binds a small group. Breakfast is the latter.

Details matter in this movie — like when Curtis' mom shows up at Sadie's birthday party. The other women all tense up at her über-mom efficiency, then relax when they see she's brought a gift of vodka infusions. Alcohol and sociability smooth over differences and save the afternoon — and I think most of us can relate.

Verdict: 16/20. I do not generally like films that could be compared to a long, soothing afternoon in a sunny garden.  But Breakfast proved to be an exception.

This Week in Theaters

Kevin Costner manages a football team in Draft Day. Families head out en masse to Rio 2. Oculus is a horror flick about a killer mirror.

In the art-houses: An unusual romance blossoms in Mumbai in The Lunchbox, at the Roxy and Savoy. Hardcore action fans: Here's your chance to see The Raid 2, sequel to The Raid: Redemption, on the big screen. Be aware that it may not last long at the Roxy — Nymphomaniac sure didn't. All showtimes here.

This Week in Your Living Room

August: Osage County, Grudge Match, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Justin Bieber's Believe, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, A Touch of Sin.

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Breakfast with Curtis
Rated NR · 84 min. · 2013
Official Site:
Director: Laura Colella
Writer: Laura Colella
Cast: Jonah Parker, Theo Green, David Parker, Aaron Jungels, Yvonne Parker, Virginia Laffey, Adele Parker, Laura Colella, Gideon Parker and Tory Fair


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About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.

More by Margot Harrison


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