For Catherine (2005) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for language
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: Grant Henry, Travis Barkley, Bru Rodriguez, Catherine Campbell, Christopher, Ed Fickle, Ethan Hunter, Matty Shelton, Casey Smith, Rae Stephens, Cleve Williams, Evan Schafer, Linwood Jaycocks, Nikki Talley
Director: Ethan Hunter
Screenplay: Ethan Hunter
Review published March 21, 2007

Writer-director Ethan Hunter made this modest, zero-budget film (shot for only $5,000) using limited resources (shot entirely in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina) and the help of friends, and friends of friends.  While the miniscule budget and lack of professional quality sound, lighting, and editing shows throughout, what you might not expect at first glance is that it would end up being a worthwhile experience for those who enjoy the smaller, independent films that gain more points through funny characterizations and incisively witty dialogue than in all of the bells and whistles a high-budget production provides.  Kevin Smith paved the way with his smash breakthrough, Clerks, which delighted audiences willing to overlook meager tech specs for his unique outlook on life and clever allusions to the world of films, dating, and the erudite musings of a young intellectual.  While Hunter's film probably won't have the wide appeal of Clerks, it's fruit picked from the same tree, as it sends up typical big-budget Hollywood fare, while also providing smart alternative entertainment on its own.

Hunter sets up his film as the antithesis of the modern romantic comedy. Instead of the typical Hollywood story of a man and woman meeting, overcoming whatever difficulties they have in order to finally come together in the end, Hunter decides to clip out the entirety of the courtship process and show the less-than-happy dissolution of the relationship after a couple of years have passed -- you know, the stuff they never show in your typical Hollywood production. After an intro sequence where Duo (Henry)  strikes up a conversation in the street with Catherine (Campbell), we flash forward two years to see their relationship get put on hiatus, as Catherine decides to go to school overseas at Oxford.

With nine months apart at a time, Catherine wants more space, leaving Duo is a state of heartbreak that sees him do crazy things, like package up everything in his house and FedEx it to himself. This is when Duo's roommate, Travis (Barkley), enters the scene, finding the apartment barren and Duo sulking on the floor with nothing but empty packs of cigarettes to entertain himself with. Travis does everything he can to get Duo back on his feet, but he's stubborn as a mule, and won't leave his phone, because Catherine might call back at any moment.

Although presented as the downside that comes after the romantic union that Hollywood usually ends films with, the dissolution of a relationship and the mental anguish this causes among the participants is nothing new.  One such example proved to be a hit indie itself a few years back: Jon Favreau wrote and starred in Swingers, which told of a similar young 20-something who needed the help of his friends to get back into the "swing" of things, instead of moping around in his apartment like a sad lump.  It's also not the first film that uses the interplay among characters and extended monologues espousing the internal politics of pulp entertainment. as the aforementioned Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino paved the way for films that had characters talk about wholly superfluous subjects at length in humorous ways and raise the entertainment value of the entire film.  No surprise from the finished outcome that Hunter shares their passion for comic books (as do I), and the film itself plays out as a series of short, comic strip-like slices of the lives of one small group of friends, complete with punch lines, all wrapped around a central theme.

For Catherine isn't close to Swingers in terms of competent direction and quality acting, and it isn't really as quotably funny as Clerks, two of the films it derives its approach and sense of dramatic and comedic style from.  It probably isn't going to win any awards for cinematic excellence or artistic merit.  However, taken for what it is -- a miniscule endeavor by a novice filmmaker to craft a story that is more honest and personal than the homogenized, mass-appeal Hollywood production line rom-coms, it succeeds by being true to itself.  While it may play in the same field created by other independent filmmakers, unlike other similar indie films I've seen recently (Drop Box and Kisses & Caroms come to mind), it doesn't ride on Kevin Smith's coattails in order to get instant recognition.  It is a personal project uniquely drawing from Hunter's own life experience, random thoughts, and the ways he and his friends observe the world around them.

Despite the amateurish delivery of the dialogue, the film still manages to generate laughs, and not just one or two -- it is a funny film throughout.  Many of the laughs come from the digs on formula romantic comedies and the frustration they give to men who can never live up to their glossed-over ideals.  Recurring jokes pay off over time, including the piecemeal delivery of all of Duo and Travis's belongings by the parcel delivery person who befriends them.  There is also Travis's OCD need to shower before doing practically anything (they're short showers, though -- Duo wonders if Travis only washes one body part per visit).  Travis also stays home to NOT watch "Survivor" as a form of protest; it's not enough to just go out and do other things -- he has to be home and do nothing, including NOT watching "Survivor" out of sheer contempt.  The leads later comment about how sick they are of contemporary Hollywood films, offering up the suggestion to make their own film the way they think it should be done (self-referencing For Catherine), then muse about how they'd spice it up with the very things they spent the last minute railing against. 

I'm not going to lie and say that For Catherine has what it takes to amuse and entertain everyone.  It's a very course production, with some flubs all too glaring.  Boom mikes pop in and out, production equipment lays around, and the shadows created by the internal lighting are very evident throughout.  You have to understand the miniscule nature of the production in order to appreciate what little these guys had to work with to make their dream of making a movie come true.  If you can put up with the fact that there's almost nothing spit-and-polish about it, you might see that underneath the hollow sound and herky-jerky camera work that Ethan Hunter and his cast are funny, smart, and insightful guys who might actually make a breakthrough film of their own with just a bit more money, experience, and know-how. 

For Catherine is a diamond-in-the-rough endeavor that probably would make a great demo for Hunter to show to someone what he can do with next to nothing in his pocket.  If he can make a film that is this entertaining, endearing and insightful without much means, just think what he might be able to do with a bigger budget, some acting coaches for the actors, and more professional equipment.  While I can honestly say that I enjoyed For Catherine in its current form enough to recommend to those who like unseen indies off (way off) the beaten path, it would be nice to see this what can be done with this same script and premise without all of the crude qualities inherent in a sub-5k production.  Hopefully, the deep pocket producers will keep the dialogue and story as is -- I certainly don't want to see, as Travis muses, aliens crashing into buildings and exploding, followed by a one-liner like, "Looks like they had a BLAST!".  Watching Duo and Travis talking about it is ten times funnier than seeing it happen, anyway.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo