Wednesday 25 August 2010

Cruisin': "Wah Do Dem"

It's a terrible title, granted, but otherwise Wah Do Dem, the debut from young filmmakers Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, exudes a certain winning low-key charm. Twentysomething Brooklynite Max (the engagingly gawky Sean Bones) splits up with his girlfriend mere days before the Jamaican cruise the pair were scheduled to go on; with all his friends busy, our boy elects to go it alone, and that's about it for plot. On board the cruise ship, the film adopts documentary-like rhythms, the directors' background in non-fiction coming to the fore: Bones has his picture taken, enjoys the buffet, makes a couple of new friends; he flicks disinterestedly through the news channels while ordering room service, is hit upon by a fellow traveller who misconstrues his use of the words "cruise partner".

Upon arrival at the island, however, Max's lax and lackadaisical attitude to personal security results in matters taking a turn for the nightmarish, albeit in a typically understated, shambling fashion; soon, there's more adventure than he, we and perhaps even the filmmakers expected. The promotional material lumps Wah Do Dem in with the emergent mumblecore movement, possibly for its cordiality, its willingness simply to hang out with its characters and shoot the breeze - Jamaica being as good a backdrop for this as any. Yet it's rather more polished than that classification would suggest: between the crisp photography of New York by night, the bright island colours and its fleeting Norah Jones cameo, frankly it looks too good for mumblecore, and the clearance costs for the hipster soundtrack alone would presumably keep an Andrew Bujalski funded for the rest of their career.

Where Wah Do Dem really differentiates and distinguishes itself, though, is in its ability to look beyond its protagonist's narrow worldview. The cruise takes place in the week leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, and Chace and Fleischner are vaguely critical of their self-absorbed slacker of a lead, drifting through life - all skateboards and headphones - until he's forced to reconnect with those around him; The Harder They Come's Carl Bradshaw enters at a crucial juncture as a village mystic leading this errant knight back to the path of righteousness. If you were feeling less than tolerant, you might note the film's resemblance to an overstretched Gap Year anecdote, but the writer-directors are better placed to appreciate the value of lived experience: finally - and unlike a lot of mumblecore - Wah Do Dem goes somewhere.

Wah Do Dem opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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