Gutterbug is Andrew Gibson’s directorial debut and a pretty excellent one at that. His IMDb credits list experience as a location scout, which is apparent in his eye for creating an authentic feel for his characters and their world.
The story is a drug-addled, crust-punk dirge about early twentysomethings lost in the margins of the Boston underground scene. Bug (Andrew Yackle), Slim (Justin Pietropaolo) and Jenny (Hannah Mosqueda) are aimless, wandering, searching for the next score. After a suicide attempt, Bug decides it’s time to go home, only to learn that’s a lot more difficult than taking the train a few stops down the track to his suburban childhood home.
What follows is a character piece focused on Bug rather than a dive into the larger questions surrounding drug addiction and downward spirals. A smart play. Yackle is engrossing in his performance, at once empathetic and utterly disappointing. You’d like for him to succeed in the battle against himself and his poor impulses. Slim is the bad friend who incites those impulses while Jenny is, well, Jenny. The wrap-up to Bug’s story feels pat and hopeful in a movie that otherwise feels hopeless, appropriate for a story but incongruent. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s OK.
Gibson’s eye for setting and character is only offset somewhat by a structural storytelling decision that feels a touch out of step around the middle of the film, where events break chronology in a fashion that does not contribute to the story’s momentum. Perhaps earlier cuts without the shift prove my instinct on this incorrect, but as a viewer it’s jarring and feels unnecessary. Additionally, the shocking momentum of Bug’s descent the closer he gets to his final destination becomes larger than him in a way that feels surprising and maybe … too much?
But where the story takes Bug is less memorable than Bug himself, and thankfully Gibson, Yackle and company keep their focus for much of Gutterbug on the character, his life and his tragedy. Much of the movie feels like a gutter-punk slacker story without the general lifestyle idealization. It’s a strong debut — with flaws like most debuts but successful at what it sets out to be, a visually authentic character piece with an empathetic perspective.