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LIZA, LIZA, SKIES ARE GREY (2017) review

August 21, 2017



written by: Terry Sanders
produced by: Steven Chao, Ann Dickinson, Richard Purington & Terry Sanders
directed by: Terry Sanders
rated: unrated 
runtime: 86 min.
U.S. release date: August 18, 2017 (limited)


For me, the only draw of “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” was the period in which it’s set and how that aspect of the film would hopefully offer an immersive or at least distinctive experience. But after reading more promotional material for this low-budget independent feature – a first from veteran documentation Terry Sanders (who wrote, produced and edited as well) – which touted the film as a hybrid of such literary classics as Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey. Well, such hopes were dashed when became quite apparent that the film lacked any true period acknowledgement and such a description turned out to be an extreme over-reach, since this teenage sexual discovery tale, wound up testing my threshold for bad acting and terrible dialogue within a totally forced and unconvincing love story. 

During the summer of 1966 in Southern California the pulse of the youth resonates with the looming threat of the atomic bomb, the Vietnam Draft, racial divide and sexual revolution. With all of that swirling in the air, curious and naive fifteen-year-old Liza (Mikey Madison), hopes her summer can be one of new experiences, particularly when it comes to losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Brett (Sean H. Sully), a motorcycle-riding hunk who shares the same sexual inexperience. It’s unclear why Liza’s disaffected Mother (Kristin Minter) isn’t thrilled at the thought of her daughter hanging out with Brett, nor why she’s intent on hooking Liza up on blind dates herself. With Brett about to be sent to the east coast indefinitely, Liza has decided that, although she knows Brett will have other girls in the future, she wants to be his first. The two decide to embark on an impromptu ride north up the coastline, before time separates the two as they determine the best environment to consummate their relationship.




I can’t remember the last time I found myself immediately bored out of my mind while viewing a film. That happened within the first ten minutes of “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” thanks to the bland and vapid performances by Madison as Liza and  Minter as Mother. Neither of them have a compelling on-screen presence, which is understandable for Madison considering she hasn’t done a whole lot (she’s primarily known as Pamela Adlon’s daughter in “Better Things” on FX), but Minter (who played Heather McCalister in “Home Alone”) seems to be comatose in her one-dimensional role. I would eventually learn that much of this is due to a screenplay that is utterly uninteresting, but it’s never a good sign when both the actors and the characters they play are such a turn off early on.

It also doesn’t help that from the opening shots, Sanders doesn’t go out of his way to establish life in Southern California circa 1966. The shots of Los Angeles City Hall looks like it was filmed yesterday. There is nothing except a few vehicles that set the atmosphere in “Liza, Liza” apart from a modern-day setting, which in turn had me wondering why he chose to place the story in that setting. Sure, there must be an affinity for that nostalgic period in America, free of internet and smartphones, but if you’re budget is so low where you can’t convey a distinctive environment of the period, then don’t bother.

The only indication that a “Bomb Scare” is on the social consciousness of the characters in “Liza, Liza, Skies are Grey” is when we see the high schoolers in Liza’s watch the classic “Duck and Cover” propaganda film (from 1952) while in class. Fear of the Cold War or bombing doesn’t loom throughout the entire film, lasting during the first act of the story only, resulting in a missed opportunity.

I did try and give the title character some time to grow on me, but it just never happened. It seems like the only characteristic trait Sanders gave the meek Liza is a curiosity for sex. She’s not horny, just curious and nervous, asking friends she encounters what sex is like and whether or not they’ve had sex – at one point she asks such questions to Brett, which is mind-boggling since you’d think this is a topic that’s come up already seeing that they’re dating. Did they just start dating last week? Her questions feel unnatural, unlike anything a teenager would say (regardless what generation they’re from) and the activity Liza, Brett and their school friend, Paul (Kwame Boateng, the best actor in the entire film) engage in seems equally questionable. I get that teens are curious, but when would a guy take his girlfriend and another guy friend out to peruse through an adult book store and then a quick stop to gawk at a pornographic theater?




Speaking of that guy – Brett played by Sean H. Sully – does the film no favors either. Sanders doesn’t even bother to give the character a 60’s-style haircut, instead we get a guy wearing a “Party of Five”-type lid, which took me out of the era completely. If Brett and Liza have anything in common, it’s that they’re both bland one-dimensional characters and if Madison and Sully have anything in common it’s that neither of them are able to emote anything unique or convincing, therefore they’re unable to light a spark of chemistry together. I’m not going to deny that I may be totally out of touch with teen behavior, but I found such carousing bizarre and forced.

Bizarre behavior isn’t limited to the teens of “Liza, Liza”, the adults are equally deliver their fair share as well. There’s a guy (John-Paul Lavoisier “Days of Our Lives”) Liza’s mother hooks Liza up with who seems like he’s her mother’s age, who winds up force his naked self on her. It’s a scene that’s awkwardly filmed and acted, landing somewhere between a made-for-TV Lifetime flick or something straight out of Skinamax. It’s an unearned moment, quickly disregarding otherwise serious and emotionally damaging material and adding very little to Liza’s overall sexual journey.

I suppose the other characters that Liza and Brett encounter on their trip are meant to resemble characters from The Odyssey in some manner, but such a comparison is another aspect of the film that falls completely flat.  There’s the sleazy motel owner (Robert John Brewer) who makes himself comfortable in their room and a repeated run in with some phony tough guys, that just doesn’t work. It all feels so staged and obvious.

The geography of the film comes to play during the couple’s road trip, where they travel on Brett’s motorcycle up PCH, from Pacific Palisades to Monterey and Big Sur. While these locations are beautiful, I couldn’t help but notice how odd it was that there are rarely any other vehicles on the road and the decision to use a rider’s POV or close up on the both of them as they communicate while riding pulled me out of the experience of their journey, making viewers all too conscious of camera decisions.

The biggest and most egregious problem with “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey” is the film’s excruciating screenplay, primarily the dialogue which is full of lines that just fall to the ground as they exit the actor’s mouths. There is no drama or draw to the story whatsoever, but the dialogue, especially between the two main characters is really terrible. Here’s some examples: In talking about current events, Liza asks Brett, “Don’t you ever look at a newspaper?”, he replies, “It’s too scary. I’ve kinda given them up.” After the two engage in their anti-climatic consummation scene under stars, Brett compliments Liza with, “….you were fantastic,” to which she responds, “No, you were.” Ugh. Then there’s the scene where Liza tells Brett she loves him (after intercourse, of course) as they say their goodbyes in a Monterrey County police station, to which he responds, “You don’t have to say that,” and without missing a beat she comes back with, “I know, but that’s part of why I love you.” Say what?

It’s just more bizarre and unearned interaction since at no point are we convinced these two are in love. We don’t know how or why they would be. It’s all so unconvincing. Viewers shouldn’t have to be told by the characters on the screen that they are in love, it should be understandable and pretty obvious. Even on an ultra-low-budget film like this, there could at least be a solid screenplay and some decent acting, but none of that can be found in the forgettable “Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey”.






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