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KEEP IN TOUCH (2016) review

November 20, 2016

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written by: Michael Angelo Covino and Sam Kretchmar
produced by: Michael Angelo Covino, Rachel Dengiz and Amelia Covino
directed by: Sam Kretchmar
rated: unrated
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: April 16, 2016 (CIMM Fest, Chicago, IL), 
November 4, 2016 (limited) and November 11-17, 2016 (Facets Cinémathèque, Chicago, IL) 

 

We all have people we miss from our childhood, those we’ve lost touch with over the years. Many of us have had moments of nostalgia spurred by or resulting in looking up those people on social media. Some of us might have even had the painful, confusing surprise of learning from the internet that an old schoolmate has died a too-young death. That is the experience of Colin (Ryan Patrick Bachand), who learns of the death of his childhood best friend, Annie, while trying to get his life back on track after a stint in prison. Colin’s search to connect with his past leads him to the next best thing: Annie’s younger sister, Jessie (Gabbi McPhee).

“Keep in Touch” follows the structure of a typical romantic comedy, where a secret kept will eventually bring the illusion of love crashing down. Here, the unusual circumstances of their meeting means Colin won’t reveal their shared connection. As is often the case in these films, a little bit of communication early on would go a long way – but then, where is the drama? The relationship that follows would be more believable and affecting were it not one just another in a long history of films in which a male protagonist gets the girl after stalking her for the first part of the movie.

 

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The early scenes in which Colin anonymously watches Jessie’s concerts (the actress and the character are singer-songwriters in one of those cringeworthy acts of self-promotion) and follows her home are shot in a way entirely out-of-sync with the rest of the film, like one of those trailers recut to suggest an inappropriate genre. These tonal shifts feel like the film might take an abrupt turn into thriller territory, which would have made for a more interesting movie. As it is, it’s hard to read a scene during which Jessie jokes to Colin to sit by the window and “watch for creepers” as self-awareness on the film’s part. I often wonder if the guys who write these movies have ever met a woman.

The cast is actually quite good here, especially Bachand and McPhee, who show off a great deal of chemistry. The writing doesn’t do them any favours, with almost no one in the film behaving like a real human would. But some scenes stand on their own purely due to the performances. I found myself wishing the film had done away with the dead sister plot line altogether.  It is as though writer/director Sam Kretchmar and co-writer Michael Angelo Covino (both on their first feature) didn’t believe in the inherent drama of a self-destructive man trying to put his life back together. The Annie backstory, while meant to hint at the ways Colin suffers from nostalgia that clouds his judgment, adds nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished by simply having Colin plagued by what he had lost through his own actions. After all, we can all relate to the desire to go back and fix mistakes.

A particularly odd inclusion is Reggie Watts as a self-help guru who appears throughout the film in various situations. The film opens with Colin in prison where Dr. Clark (Watts) is motivating the inmates to take control of their own futures. Colin listens to audio recordings of Dr. Clark after leaving prison, but never seems moved to act by the doctor’s platitudes. “Make goals,” Clark says. When asked by another character what the plan is to get his life back on track, Colin casually admits he doesn’t have one. The voiceover seems to exist almost exclusively to remind the audience that the film is about a struggle towards redemption, but then isn’t all drama? It serves to make the film less coherent, especially in the way Clark is ultimately dismissed by the protagonist after the film relies so heavily on it. Importantly, while his voice opens the film, and continues throughout, it is not Dr. Clark’s voice that “Keep in Touch” closes on, but Jessie’s, suggesting Collin has found a new way to self-help. And with that, Jessie is made into someone who exists exclusively in relation to all the various men in her life: Colin, her ex-boyfriend, her father. Manic Pixie Dreamgirl ex machina.

A talented cast and a few effective moments of levity don’t quite save this indie drama that leans hard into the worst impulses of relationship drama convention. There might be a future for Sam Kretchmar, but it’s really Ryan Patrick Bachand you should keep an eye on.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

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