Screen Savor: Surface Guidance
At 22, having grown up in group and foster homes, aimless Evan (Harry Hains) is learning that it can take a lifetime to find yourself in Michael J. Saul’s The Surface (Ariztical/Aimes). Evan (below) is a broke college student, with a passion for swimming, living with his financially stable boyfriend Chris (Nicholas McDonald), who has a habit of being insensitive to him.
Things change when Evan buys an old movie camera at a yard sale. Harry (Robert Weiner), the man who sells Evan the camera, offers to let him use his editing equipment if it doesn’t sell. After getting his developed reels back, Evan decides to take Harry up on his offer only to learn from Harry’s son Peter (Michael Redford), now living in his father’s house, that Harry has died. Peter gives Evan the equipment, including a projector and some old home movies that he was going to get rid of. These artifacts have an surprising creative effect on Evan and he ends up turning them into a short film to be screened at a student film festival.
The movie is well-received which has unexpected consequences. Chris, who liked having Evan being dependent on him, realizes that Evan was more talented than he had ever acknowledged. It also brings out a streak of jealousy in Chris because Evan has been working for Peter, tending to the garden and cleaning the pool. Meanwhile, Evan’s movie stirred up all sorts of feelings in Peter who had more or less taken his childhood experiences for granted. Seeing them spliced together in Evan’s movie has a profound effect on him. After a disagreement with Chris, Evan finds himself at Peter’s, leading to a romantic encounter.
With all of this conflict, The Surface could have easily fallen into the trap of being a soap opera, but Saul’s script is more sophisticated and intelligent than that. Clichés are few and far between. Instead, The Surface goes deep, with thoughtful observations such as the people that you meet along the way to finding yourself are special and important, but they are not the journey.
As irreverent and inappropriate as gay comedy can get, Guidance (Strand/Edyson) will have you laughing out loud, while looking around you to make sure you aren’t the only one doing it. Pathologically immature David (Pat Mills, who also wrote and directed) had a modicum of fame as a child actor on a kids’ TV show. Now an irresponsible adult with a serious drinking problem, a cancerous growth on his shoulder and the inability to keep a job, pay bills and make rent, he stumbles upon an opening as an interim high school guidance counselor, a position for which he is ill equipped.
David, the kind of guy who blacks out the faces of his relatives in a family portrait, assumes the identity of Roland, a high school guidance counselor he saw on YouTube. While on campus, he taunts resident discipline problem Desmond (David A. Wontner), insults the staff, including gay gym teacher Scott (David Tompa), makes friendless shy girl Rhonda (Eleanor Zichy) a personal project, does alcohol shots in his office with student Jabrielle (Zahra Bentham), bonds with “goth” girl Alexondria (Emily Piggford) and gets high with the newly expelled pot dealer Brent, aka Ghost (Alex Ozerov).
However, it doesn’t take long for everything to unravel, beginning with Scott’s discovery of David/Roland’s true identity while they are on a date, courtesy of a waitress who was a fan of David’s show. Then Guidance abruptly shifts gears to become a campy Bonnie and Clyde tale.
Guidance makes some interesting observations, including that there is “nothing more repulsive to a teenager than taking life advice from someone who went to school to help teenagers.” David, who “exists in the space between caring too much and not giving a f*ck,” must eventually face his problems. His jailhouse finale rocks.
By Gregg Shapiro