Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Big Shot-Caller

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Simmering Sibling Rivalry Settled on the Dance Floor in Dysfunctional Family Dramedy

Jamie Lesser (David Rhein) is a nearsighted nerd with two left feet who has dreamt about Salsa dancing since he was child when he would watch the movie Strictly Ballroom numerous times a day. Although he is already a young adult, he has never acted upon that impulse and merely passes a lonely existence in New York City where he works as an accountant.
Finally feeling his oats after receiving a promotion at work, on his way home he summons up the courage to enter a Salsa party going on inside a Manhattan dance studio. Inside, he is approached by Elissa (Laneya Wiles), a gorgeous Latina who can really cut the rug out on the floor. The overture shocks terminally-awkward Jamie, since he’s never had any luck with the ladies.
Next, not only do they leave together, but they saunter over to a nearby bar where they share a few too many cocktails before going back to his apartment. But Jamie is just too much of a gentleman to take advantage of the drunken Dominican when she passes out at his place.
Elissa appreciates that gesture the morning after, and thus begins a whirlwind romance which unfortunately ends as abruptly as it began the day she disappears and simply stops answering his text messages. Heartbroken and depressed over the loss of this his first love, Jamie soon loses his job, and then his apartment.
With nowhere else to go, he grudgingly has to turn to his only relative around for help. Jamie hasn’t seen his estranged sister Lianne (Marlene Rhein) in over a decade, basically because they’re polar opposites. He’s an atheist. She believes in God whom she refers to as The Big Shot-Caller, hence the title.
He’s a straitlaced wallflower nobody notices, she’s a vivacious dynamo with a wild assortment of wigs which help her light up the room as soon as she walks in. He can’t dance. She’s quite accomplished, having frittered away what should have been her most productive years in nightclubs.
So it’s no surprise that Lianne doesn’t have much to show for a career, having pursued her passions only to end up bartending on the verge of middle age. Ironically, Jamie now needs her charity, in spite of having followed a more practical path. So, he moves in, has to eat crow, and the balance of the picture revolves around their sorting out the source of their deep-seated sibling rivalry.
This is where the plot thickens in The Big Shot-Caller, a dysfunctional family dramedy which marks the impressive writing, directing and acting debut of Marlene Rhein. Curiously, she cast her real-life brother David to play Jamie, and the script is semi-autobiographical which helps explain why the tension between the two comes off as authentic. The film from this juncture on often feels like you’re a fly on the wall during an emotional, group therapy session with a couple of very vulnerable, but likable souls.
You know how they say everybody has one good novel in them based on their own experience? I wonder whether the same can be said about moviemaking. In any case, this is an absolutely-appealing little gem of an indie, leaving this critic curious to see whether Ms. Rhein’s sophomore offering will be anywhere near as satisfying.
PS: The movie is narrated in Spanish, although virtually all of the dialogue is in English. Another novel twist the artistically-inclined are apt to appreciate.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Stella Films
Distributor: International Film Circuit

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