Still from 'Mr. Roosevelt'

SXSW Film 2017: Day Six

Mar 16, 2017 By Stephen Mayne
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When trying to find drugs to get you through the day, it helps if you actually know what they’re called. Searching for paracetamol got me nowhere because I should have been looking for Tylenol in this country – at least I hope that’s what I should have been looking for. If not, who knows what I’m attempting to keep this bug at bay with.

It helped that the first film of the day was a repeat screening of Mayhem, fresh from a midnight showing the other night. Just in case it’s not clear, the midnight strand tends to consist of the kind of all-out genre experiences it’s hard to drift off to. Joe Lynch’s film fits the category with a premise based around a virus provoking extreme behavior. In this world, the virus has been contained, but it gets loose in a law firm leaving the cutthroat corporate bloodsuckers stuck inside a violent quarantine for eight hours.

Steven Yuen, trading on his Walking Dead experiences, takes the lead as a recently fired lawyer out for revenge against the executive floor. He’s joined by Samara Weaving as a woman he recently helped deprive of a house who wants her own vengeance. Together they go all Dredd/The Raid and work their way up the floors, battering people with nail guns, hammers and screwdrivers.

Oddly enough, the biggest problem with Mayhem is how sanitised it feels. While fun, there could have been a lot more actual mayhem. Attempts at humor don’t really work either. All the characters feel too broadly drawn to hold attention for an entire feature. Still, the relative lack of gore meant I wasn’t put off the cheeseburger I couldn’t help but order to the seat. This meal in the cinema business was something I had to try.

After that weird run of weather (I have no idea if it is actually weird but anything other than hot seems instinctively wrong in Texas), the sun put in an appearance and everything is rosy once more in Austin. This meant a delightful walk across the river to get to a buzz screening of Mr. Roosevelt. For the uninitiated, of which I was one until very recently, these are slots reserved to fit in extra showings of popular films. Noël Wells directorial debut certainly fits that particular bill.

You might (scratch might for should) remember Wells as the regular scene-stealer in Aziz Ansari’s excellent Master of None. It feels like we’re witnessing a moment as she takes her unique brand of charm, honesty, and self-deprecation into feature film format. Wells plays Emily, a comedian of sorts with a few popular YouTube videos behind her but no idea where to go next. She’s been living in LA scraping together an existence until her ex-calls her back to Austin after her cat – Mr. Roosevelt of the title – falls ill.

This provides the canvas for home truths and self-discovery in the city she abandoned for better things. She finds her ex with a new partner who is about as together as a person can get, and she makes incredibly friendly new pals in awkward circumstances. It could have been very average but Wells captures the hipster, gig-economy zeitgeist perfectly, sending it up while acknowledging the reasons so many want that life.

Her refusal to look down on anyone in the film, with the possible exception of herself, avoids the smugness that can sometimes invade these kinds of stories. Instead we get something funny and raw, and deserving of the hype surrounding it. One of the volunteers outside before the screening was informing us he thinks it has a great chance of taking the Audience Award at the end of the week. Having now seen it, that would come as no surprise.

On that note, I end the regular diary updates. They’ll be one more to sweep up remaining films, but most of everything has played at least once now, and music is starting to take over the city once more. I’ll try and get a couple more films in anyway of course.


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