Sunday, August 21, 2016

Son of Clowns Review

In one way or another, we are all actors. We have all hid pain or regret from those around us, putting on a performance in order to mask something deeper. Something that can be tucked away temporarily yet impossible to bury permanently. I have never stood on a set or up on a stage and delivered lines from a script, but I have done plenty of acting. We all have.

Hudson Cash (Adam Lee Ferguson) had a role on a network television series until he receives a phone call informing him that it has been cancelled. He leaves his life in Los Angeles behind to return home to North Carolina, a world that feels foreign rather than familiar. A place of uncertainty rather than salvation. His family tries to pay their bills through unconventional means, a backyard circus business, but it's a struggle. They perform at children's parties and bringing joy to their customers is all that matters in the moment, but they're acting. They're doing their best to hide the pain of knowing that doing what they love may not be enough.

One day while helping out the family business by making a stop at a party favor store, Hudson meets Ellie (Anne-Marie Kennedy), a girl with a smile that lights up the room and they instantly have chemistry. The connection with Ellie is something Hudson desperately covets, the door he needs opened to make him comfortable enough to allow for vulnerability. A cry for help just when he needs to let it out most. Afraid to tell his family and friends about the disappointing path his career has just taken, whenever Hudson is asked about the status of his show he delays the agony associated with the truth by telling lies. Quietly and with seeming normalcy, he soaks his sorrows in a constant stream of alcohol to feel numb to the world.

Filmed by writer/director Evan Kidd on a micro-budget around his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, it's to be expected that editing flaws can be spotted and a performance or two may seem a bit flat, but all things considered what Kidd has created here is quite impressive, a picture that has a soul and beating heart bursting through a very personal narrative that is driven by characters and dialogue. The photography is often wonderfully vivid and the lens captures the city and its citizens beautifully, making it quite clear that this whole project means something special to those working on it. Son of Clowns has an authenticity that breathes life into the entire experience, elevating even the somewhat clunky sequences early on because it's easy to tell that warts and all, this is Kidd's film.

On a performance level, Ferguson plays Hudson in a way that makes him seem not only cold but also a bit wooden early, which initially felt like something worthy of criticism. However, as the film rolls on and his inner demons start to bubble to the surface, the fact that he seemed a bit flat and closed off while interacting with his family and friends after first arriving home feels honest and gives his character a bit of sincerity, especially as we witness him open up while unfortunately falling apart. Despite Ferguson playing the lead, the key to the entire film is Anne-Marie Kennedy as Ellie. The moment Hudson enters the party store and we get our first glance at her, something about Son of Clowns changes for the better as she displays an aura that is intoxicating, the type of girl I would have had a crush on instantly without even having to say a word. The fact that Ferguson and Kennedy prove to be the two strongest actors in the film does wonders for everything Kidd means to achieve here, because as I reflect on the entirety of the picture, the moments that are shared between Hudson and Ellie are the best sequences in Son of Clowns. Evan Kidd shows an impressive amount of maturity as a filmmaker when he lets the camera linger during a few scenes, allowing the emotional complexities of love under duress resonate rather than unnecessarily rushing to the next moment or important set piece.

Of course Son of Clowns isn't perfect cinema, considering it's made by someone working under the limitations of micro-budget independent filmmaking. With each passing minute though, the talents of Kidd begin to peak through frame after frame and I couldn't help but admire his ability to allow his two leads to take over during the second and third acts. As the story of Hudson Cash began to wind down, it occurred to me that Son of Clowns is a film that needs just the right ending. I could see two possible outcomes, one that felt essential given Hudson's journey and the thematic weight of the material, and another that would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

If you could have seen the smile on my face when the credits began to roll, you would know for sure which direction it went.

Already an award winner for Best Actor and Actress at the 2016 Eastern North Carolina Film Festival and named 1st Runner Up for Best Dramatic Feature at the 2016 Down East Flick Festival, Son of Clowns will be released on Amazon VOD November 15th. Give it a look when you get the chance.


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