THE BIG SHOT-CALLER (2008)
Starring David Rhein, Marlene Rhein, Laneya Wiles, Robert Costanzo, Leslie Eva Glaser, Rodney Lopez, Mariana Parma, Natasha A. Williams, Maria Soccor, Paul Borghese, Stephanie Bush, Phil La Rocco and Johnny Solo.
Screenplay by Marlene Rhein.
Directed by Marlene Rhein.
Distributed by Stella Films. 90 minutes. Not Rated.
At what point do you distinguish the difference between home movies and a feature film?
The Big Shot-Caller is “based on real events.” It has a brother and sister portraying a brother and sister.
Written and directed as the feature debut by music video veteran Marlene Rhein – who had done the clips for Amy Winehouse’s “Fuck Me Pumps” and Tupac Shakur’s final vid “All About You” – The Big Shot-Caller is visually stylish, but just a bit too self-absorbed and amateurish to strongly recommend.
Her camaraderie with her brother David, who is the inspiration and star of this film, is obvious. However, their skills as actors are a little more suspect – particularly David who has a natural screen presence but seems a little uncomfortable when having to play big emotions.
David plays Jamie, a young man who has a rare eye condition called Nystagmus, an extreme form of near-sightedness which makes the eyes move involuntarily. (David Rhein does have this condition in real life.) The condition has made Jamie shy, out of touch with the outside world and socially awkward.
Apparently as a young boy, Jamie would dream of being a salsa dancer and obsessively watch the movie Strictly Ballroom – 97 times a day according to the voiceover, though obviously that would mean that Jamie’s days run a hell of a lot longer than most people’s. Also, it seems like David Rhein, who appears to be in his early 30s, might have been well into his teens when that 1992 film made it onto video, but I’ll give the film the benefit of the doubt on that point. However, his dreams of becoming a dancer were eventually squashed by their fat, boorish father (played by veteran character actor Robert Costanzo, the only recognizable face in the film). Also, the one time he did try to audition, he was told that his eye condition would be too distracting for the audience.
Eventually Jamie becomes a New York accountant, but his life is as cold and sterile as his job. He has become estranged from his free-spirited older sister (played by the writer/director) and looks desperately and vainly for love and happiness. He finally falls into an awkward courtship with a kinda shallow bank worker, but eventually she tires of his measured courtship pace. Jamie falls into a deep funk, loses his job, loses his home and has to move in with the sister.
The sister, who considers herself a bit of a street philosopher (the title of the film is how she refers to God) becomes convinced that if Jamie just goes back to his childhood dream of dancing, he will become a better and happier man.
As an indie, the film has a lot of little quirky touches. For example, the voice-over narration is all done in Spanish, even though the film takes place in New York and almost all other dialogue is in English. We never know quite why. It is suggested that Jamie’s grandfather was a great salsa dancer who lives in Mexico (though, honestly, the rest of the family seems much more Jewish than Hispanic) so perhaps that is supposed to be the grandpa – but he eventually appears in the final scene and is a different actor.
There is also a subplot suggesting that the sister may have breast cancer, however it is never completely developed or really even followed up on. This ambiguity may be a stylistic choice on Ms. Rhein’s part, but it feels more like an inexperienced screenwriter who took on too many subjects and ends up unable to reign them all in.
While The Big Shot-Caller has some fine moments – Jamie’s “shy guy in the big city” dilemma is particularly entertaining, in the long run the film feels like a contradiction. The plot seems both overstuffed and undercooked. In the long run, nothing of great import seems to happen.
I am certain that Marlene and David Rhein are passionate about the story that they are trying to tell. I’m just not so sure the rest of the people who see it are going to care all that much.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 14, 2009.