Jeff Balsmeyer’s second feature, Ingenious, may be about a couple of down on their luck inventors and salesmen, but you can’t help but get the sense that it says a lot about indie film at the same time. It takes a certain amount of drive, and love of one’s craft to dedicate so much to something that doesn’t always deliver rewards. And in Ingenious, you can feel that drive and love, both in front of the camera, and behind it.
Ingenious tells the true story of two best friends Matt (Dallas Roberts) and Sam (Jeremy Renner), two novelty item inventors who are at the very bottom of rock bottom. Their current line of watches inspired by dogs, golf, and the lottery just aren’t taking off as much as they hoped and they’re at the end of their line.
Barely making ends meet, and trying to avoid a life of normality that comes with a regular day job, they resort to considering criminal behavior, talking Matt’s wife, Gina (Ayelet Zurer) into taking out a personal loan and then proceeding to blow all of that loan money at a blackjack table. As you would suspect, this creates even more drama for the would be inventors.
I won’t spoil what the actual “ingenious” idea is that saves the day, as that’s not what’s really important here. It’s more the journey that Matt and Sam go on that’s important. The fact that they were staring in the face of complete financial ruin and personal loss, and still strived for the one thing they believed in, speaks volumes at the type of people they are, more than any invention ever could.
But there a few minor problems with Ingenious. The first act feels sluggish, and a little tedious, as the filmmakers show us just how unsuccessful Matt and Sam are at marketing their products. Even though some of their more unsuccessful inventions, such as the jogger’s TV hat, and my personal favorite, the 10 Second Toothbrush, are cause for laughter, it could have been cut in post-production as it didn’t add anything that we didn’t already know.
Once past the first act though, the film starts to pull together, starting with the realization that the duo is actually broke. They have reached their limits and are now forced to take options that they otherwise wouldn’t take. This leads to a terrific scene with character actor Richard Kind (Spin City), who plays Newkin, the corporate enemy to Matt and Sam’s grassroots company.
As the self-declared “King of TV”, Newkin offers them a chance to market their products on television, where they will recieve a smaller percentage of the profit, but will actually be making money. Sam doesn’t want any part of it though and it leads to a rather hilarious verbal assault.
Renner (pre-The Hurt Locker fame) delivers a worthwhile performance as the cocksure kind of loose cannon of the film while Roberts (The Grey) perfectly controls the presence of a man in constant search of his dreams, delivering the heart of the film. When on screen together, they present a dynamic that makes you believe that this friendship has endured so many years because they’ve always been there for each other.
The script, by first time writer Mike Cram, is a wonderful little slice of life look at the American Dream. Cram, who partly based the story on his own experience working in the field of novelty invention and sales, takes us completely into that world, with all of the highs and lows it has to offer, and ultimately creates an inspiring story of redemption and determination.
Ingenious marks the second feature from director Jeff Balsmeyer, after the little seen Danny Deckchair. Even though the story doesn’t call for much in the way of look, Balsmeyer takes what little there is and makes it pop. The trade show convention scenes really give an idea of just how crazy a world this is, and there is also some beautiful scenery laced throughout.
The only gripe I would mention is that the film doesn’t seem too sure on its setting. You get an idea that it might be set in the early 90’s, and if taken advantage of, that could have added a little bit of fun to the look and feel of the film, by taking advantage of all of the trappings that come with that period.
Overall, Ingenious is a strong indie film with great characters and good lessons for all who are willing to give it a chance.
Like the characters in the film, the filmmakers themselves are looking for funding. If you would like to help, check out their Kickstarter page and help bring Ingenious to a wider audience.