Image blatantly stolen from Vox.When I saw the title for Box Elder, the low-budget, COMO-made comedy about college life at MU, I immediately expected a road trip flick about a search for the mythical Box Elder, MO from the Pavement song by the same name. I didn't get the road trip I expected, but what I did view was a surprisingly well-made film that Kevin Smith should have made years ago...had he grown up/attended college in COMO instead of New Jersey.
The film's opening shot follows Becker, played by Nick Renkoski, as he makes his way across campus. This single take won me over from the beginning. It was well-timed and executed to perfection, something that was unexpected from such a low-budget film. For all the accolades Kevin Smith has received for his films, he could have never pulled this scene off at the same point in his career. (Now, he can afford a director of cinematography to figure it out for him.)
From there, the film follows Becker, Rennie (Alex Rennie), Brad (Chad?), and director/producer/lead dude, Todd Sklar as they traverse through their college careers at Mizzou. One-night stands, drunken tom-foolery, and a lot of sandwich consumption entails, hearkening back to the party films of the eighties such as Animal House, Porky's (entire trilogy), and Up the Creek. What Sklar's films has over those classics is more of a reliance on character development and dialogue as opposed to T&A.
BE was everything you'd want from a college comedy. There was drunken silliness and late-night rap sessions at the local diner (the Broadway Diner to be exact). There was a road trip (despite my earlier assertion) and sound advice from an adult confidant. The good guy even gets the girl (Laura as portrayed by Hina Abdullah) in the end...well, sort of, I think.
Due to the loosely written "script", much of the dialogue was juvenile and out for the cheap laugh. Although there were moments I thought maybe the subject matter would catch up with the overall sophistication of the production, it would suddenly plummet into a hole of pussy and dick jokes. Even Kevin Smith has succumbed to this trap from time to time, but he often tempers such sophomoric topics with an eloquence rarely found in mainstream cinema.
After the film, Sklar and some of his cast and crew entertained questions. Many of the questions were somewhat pointless and elicited minimal responses. I read way better questions and answers on The Bathysphere earlier in the week.
My question wasn't much better, but I have to take issue with Sklar's response. I asked about the presence of Pavement (the band) in his work. Besides the film's title, Sklar named his production company after a Pavement song ("Range Life"), used a Pavement song in the soundtrack (I've already forgotten which one, maybe "Summer Babe".), and thanked Stephen Malkmus in the credits, presumably for the use of the song.
Anyway, Sklar pointed to the band's music as his muse which makes total sense as one considers the stoner/slacker tone of the film. He then expressed his opinion that the band's music better described the present day than it did the time in which it was created, the early to mid-nineties.
I have to disagree. (Of course, this could my own sad attempt to hang on to my youth and the band that I feel most exemplifies that time.) I think that Sklar's college years, film, friends, etc. resemble that time better than they do the present. There seems to be this retro movement of the last 5-7 years in which kids are emulating the slacker, thrift-store outfitted style of the nineties. I wore a trucker hat in '93 and grew my first beard over ten years ago. It's funny to me how these aesthetics have returned to college campuses in the last decade. What's even funnier is how today's young adults (I'm sounding old and cranky again) have adopted this style as their own.
Regardless, the film was surprisingly good. I don't think it should be up for any Oscars, but it was entertaining. I look forward to what Sklar has in-store next. He claims that his next film will be better, but he wasn't ready to make it. Whenever he is ready to make his follow-up it should be better than Box Elder which bodes well for the young filmmaker.