After winning several awards at numerous film festivals, Play the Film comes home to Toronto this weekend to screen at the Canadian Film Festival. Sadly though, the only intriguing thing about this home grown production, made for $1000 as part of acclaimed filmmaker Ingrid Veninger’s 1K Wave challenge, is its cost.
The film focuses on the opening night of a new play, where an actor misses their cue only moments in and throws everything into disarray. With reputations on the line, everyone is forced to re-write and improvise in any way that they can. It doesn’t sound like much, but rather incredibly, the synopsis is significantly funnier than the film itself.
For almost every single minute of its 78-minute running time, the film lacks coherence, depth and even a sense of direction. Bernie Madoff, Occupy Wall Street, would-be teenage Middle Eastern assassins and more are all elements that make up the central play within the film, but it never seems to be able to answer why. Parodying and lampooning the American political system is inherently the intention of actor/writer Kelly McCormack’s screenplay (with more to be said for how everything keeps going horrifically wrong due to Tim Walker’s Andy deliberately sabotaging the play), but no one outside of the cast seems to be in on any of the jokes. And as the outtakes during the credits suggest, someone was laughing at some point during the making of this cinematic disaster.
Even worse is the fact that of the ten or so speaking parts, the majority have some form of subplot, but they’re all nearly indecipherable. It makes for some brief amusement from the behind the scenes drama, but not much. We are never privy to anything but quick one-line descriptions about these characters, allowing us to care very little for what is happening to them. They are all one-dimensional cut-outs at best. And while they all have some form of end game and semblance of catharsis when the film concludes, I would be hard pressed to write anything substantial about any of them. Each actor seems to be acting in their own film, only choosing to interact with the other characters at certain intervals. Much like the play within the film, it feels like Play The Film is satisfied with being chaotic for the sheer thrill of it. And while that can be fun to read on paper, it makes for a very difficult viewing experience.
From the ground up, Play the Film is a total mess of ideas and confusion. While these complaints could be chocked up to the film having to fit within the confines of Veninger’s challenge, I would imagine that the production costs do not dictate its implicit need for coherence. I am unsure of what McCormack and director Alec Toller had in mind when they were creating this, or what tools they were missing during its production (besides a working tripod). But I am certain it looked a lot better than the final product. Had Play been a short film, its chaotic nonsensical drive would have made sense. But as a barely feature-length film, it fails at almost every single turn and somehow manages to feel excruciatingly lengthy. I fear for what Play The Film‘s competition looked like if this was deemed award-worthy.
While it is impressive that Play The Film was made for $1000, it is a total mess that could have done with less characters and tighter editing.