Psycho Films may not have a multi-million dollar box office hit with their newest movie, Welcome to Shirley, but they show a lot of promise for the future. And this, their fourth feature film, is mighty fine filmmaking.
Welcome to Shirley is of professional quality that rivals other films in the indie film circuit in any city, but St. Louians will be proud that it is the work of a few talented, hometown boys, especially considering the small self-raised budget used to produce it.
Directed by Joe Weil and written by Paul Brick, both graduates of Ladue High School, Welcome to Shirley is a movie about the quirky Bannerham family brought back together because of the suicide death of their Patriarch and town bowling hero.
Set in the small town of Shirley, state unknown, Welcome to Shirley is an honest, yet comedic, satirical look at the flaws of family, the vulnerabilities in relationships and life in a small town. Deeper themes of bereavement, family dynamics, and unresolved family issues are also addressed.
The movie begins in a bowling alley with the family patriarch bowling a perfect score. Dazed or crazed, it is not made clear. But shortly thereafter, he ingests a deadly cocktail of prescription pills and Natty Beer.
Wildly dysfunctional, each self-absorbed family member seems not to care about the other and the last thing they seem to want to do is deal with all that is required of them at the death of their patriarch. In the wake of the funeral, they are confronted with the problem of how to deal with each other and years of unresolved family issues, lost hopes, unrealized dreams and sorting through a lifetime of stuff accumulated.
David (Kevin Crawford), the oldest of three biological children comes back to Shirley after being away for twelve years. Upon his return, he finds that his younger brother, Nate (Mark Holzum), is stuck in small town life, but wants out if he could only find the courage to go. Toward the end of the movie, an emotionally charged scene between brothers Nate and David reveal years of pent up anger Nate has kept toward his brother David which began when David left for the city and left Nate behind twelve years earlier.
Their sister, Rochelle (Jackie Manker), is the epitome of a small town girl who became pregnant at sixteen. All grownup, she is a single mother raising foul-mouthed, obnoxious, rowdy twin boys greatly in need of discipline while her dreams of becoming an actress are unrealized.
Their mom, Judy (Betsy Burnett-Belanger) is an eccentric woman bordering on loony who is convinced that she is pregnant even though she is well past the child-bearing years. The irony in this is that she is not exactly the motherly type and her oldest son, David, is a psychotherapist.
At times it is hard to decide if this movie is a comedy or a drama. And some of the attempts at humor just didn’t work.
The family’s obsession with eating pancakes may have been borrowed from another film about a dysfunctional family full of quirky characters. Tots anyone?
The narrator could have been eliminated altogether. The Dr. Seuss-like rhyming was a bit cartoonish for the subject matter. It added nothing to the film.
Although viewers in their teens and twenties are likely to be the biggest fans, Welcome to Shirley is written for all ages, though it may not be suitable for young audiences. Be prepared for crude humor, sexual dialogue, sexuality and profanity. All are sprinkled throughout.
Some of the most artistic and best scenes in the film are the opening scene when Bill offs himself, at the beginning when the small town of Shirley is introduced and the introduction of each of the characters. At the beginning of the movie, the close up shot of Natty bottles the patriarch tosses in the floor just before his suicide is brilliantly artistic – cinematography at its finest.
The pace slows mid-way as some scenes drag on. But hang in there; the end is worth the wait when the climax of the film is finally realized. And in the meantime, Elijah Aaron will have you tapping your toes and humming along to his amazing soundtrack.
Welcome to Shirley is an honest look at how families deal or don’t deal with family issues, dynamics and dysfunction. In the end, there is no neatly packaged resolve for the Bannerhams.
An encore matinee will show at the Tivoli Theater in the Loop Monday, January 9th for those who missed the sold-out world premier or who loved it so much that you want to see it again. Next, meet the Ladue graduates who put their first film together.
Welcome to Shirley
A Psycho Films release. Produced by: Jake Torchin. Executive producer: Blake Lawrence. Directed by: Joe Weil. Screenplay by: Paul Brick.
Actors: Nate - Mark Holzum, David - Kevin Crawford, Rochelle - Jackie Manker, Judy - Betsy Burnett-Belanger, Aaron - Christian Vieira, Chip - Erik Scott, Otis - Les Neudorf, Ralph - Kyle Hintz, Meadow - Sofia Mitchell, Daryl - Lou Cariffe