This is writer/director Oliver Mann’s feature debut and he proves, right off the bat, that he can not only create a complex and harrowing story populated by emotionally complicated characters, but that he can handle the out-of-order storytelling style he’s opted for in a way that feels like so much more than just a present-day story with a series of flashbacks. The story of older David who escapes his father by moving from New York to LA to have a crack at professional stand-up and the story of younger David who witnesses the domestic violence the father brings down on his family are told in a way where they hold equal weight and continually collide creating the sparks that enliven the movie and provide us with a tale where one-plus-one equals more than two. Likewise, the secondary stories of David’s troubled girlfriend Marcella (Wilma Rivera) and Robert, the friend that tries to help him out only to get him deeper into trouble, provide a depth and texture to the overall narrative that account for an authenticity and grittiness that is, perhaps, surprising for a first feature.
Mann’s work as director is well supported by Sachi Bahra’s strong cinematography and a lilting, sometimes haunting score from Kelli Sae. Performances are strong all ’round with Trigueros a standout in the role of David who navigates his way through the perilous waters of this story and makes a pretty good fist of his comedy club routines. There’s a droll humour to David’s act that might not have them rolling in the aisles but serves the story well in terms of the reflective nature of his humour. As the father, Ashton is believable and frightening, more for the psychological side of his abuse than for the physical. Strang, as the fragile mother trying to hold things together in the face of impossible odds, finds just the right amount of pathos as she loses her grip on reality. And, then, of course, there’s Rivera, with a terrific performance as the damaged Marcella who finds the sweet spot between vulnerable and dangerous that David finds himself drawn to.
The idea that a stand-up comedian’s funny stuff comes from a place of pain and darkness might be a cliché, but Oliver Mann’s screenplay and his realisation of it onto the big screen is anything but cliched in its explorations of his central character’s struggled with the harder sides of life, and his escape through making other people laugh. The dream-like final sequence might not entirely work as a denouement to the complex story (there’s a bit of voice over that suggests a lack of confidence in the imagery to do the job) but it leaves us in no doubt that for all the hope in the world that might bring a story like this to a close, there is still no escaping the dark undercurrents that we bring along with us from the choices we make in our difficult lives.