There is a precedent for movies in which band members play fictional or fanciful versions of themselves. Some are good (A Hard Day’s Night). Some not-so-good (Give My Regards to Broad Street). Some inexplicable (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park).
Given that fact, it would be unfair to hold it against Rich Price, Greg Naughton and Brian Chartrand — collectively aka the band The Sweet Remains — for making a movie in which they play guys named Rich, Greg and Brian who form, yes, a band.
Equally unfair would be fact-checking their real-life stories against the film’s coincidence-packed plot. After all, three guys with established recording and theater careers getting together to make music may not be terribly interesting. But how about transforming them into a frustrated grad student ready to give up on music, a quirky tree-trimmer unsure of how much effort to put into repairing his marriage, and a volatile hitchhiker with authority issues? And what if these three incomplete guys find each other, realize they can make magical music when they play together, and get a shot at living their dreams?
The Independents (available now after some festival travels) invests heavily in this thirtysomething guy fantasy. What’s that sound coming from the next-door apartment? Hey, it’s a musician struggling with a song that I can help him complete. Wait, should we pick up that hitchhiker? Hey, turns out he’s also a musician and … three-part harmony!
These guys complete each other. And if you don’t get that from the serviceable but often stalled script, you get it from an abundance of blissful looks shared between them on club stages and wherever they happen to be writing and rehearsing. In this film, they spend a LOT of time writing, rehearsing, and playing.
I just wish director / writer / co-star Greg Naughton allowed his well-known father, James Naughton (whose career ranges from Broadway’s Chicago to the Planet of the Apes TV series), and his Tony Award-winning wife, Kelli O’Hara, to do more than play thankless supporting roles.
And I wish we’d seen a little more of Richard Kind, who sparks the film’s midsection with a fun take on a distracted music industry scout who, of course, happens to be in the crowd on the one night the trio plays together. Kind grabbing a handful of nuts from the bar on his way out of the club or the casual way he praises the ear of his Colombian friend, George, are the kinds of details The Independents could use more of. George Wendt and Boyd Gaines also show up in small roles that come across as called-in favors.
This is the kind of film that can be a relief at a mid-level film festival if you’ve just watched two depressing documentaries. The guys are good musicians, there are positive vibes and pleasant-enough performances, and the cinematography is attractive even when the plot spins its wheels.
It’s no Inside Llewyn Davis or even, perhaps a better comparison, American Folk (a festival sleeper about two musicians on the road now available on Amazon Prime). It’s too narrowly focused to put these guys in context. But their musical talent — and the joy they feel playing their tunes — does come across as authentic.
And that counts for something.