FLESH AND BLOOD (2017)
Starring Mark Webber, Guillermo Santos, Cheri Honkala, Mark Webber Sr., Madeline Brewer, Guillermo Santos Sr., Antoine Williams, Galen Tyler, Victoria Cheatom, Asadullah al-Khidr, Sister Mary McKenna, Temperance Surgest and Teresa Palmer.
Screenplay by Mark Webber.
Directed by Mark Webber.
Distributed by Wide Awake Cinema. 91 minutes. Not Rated.
Screened at the 2017 Philadelphia Film Festival.
It is quite clear that Philadelphia-based actor-turned-filmmaker Mark Webber’s latest film is a very personal statement. He plays a fictionalized version of himself – same name, similar problems, different backstory. Webber has cast his own family – his mother, half-brother and long-estranged father – in the supporting roles as fictionalized versions of themselves, as well as several friends. His girlfriend, actress Teresa Palmer, even has a silent cameo at the end of the film.
So, obviously, Webber is trying to tell about his life – a story that is important and elemental to him.
I wish it felt as important and elemental to the audience. Webber’s life – fictionalized or not – comes off in Flesh and Blood as a bit of a cliched and pretentious indie mope fest about the hard-knock existences of inner-city losers. Yes, it has some interesting quirks, but mostly this all seems very familiar.
The film starts with “Mark” being released from a stint in prison. (Granted, I’m no expert on Webber’s life, but I assume this is fiction.) He must move back home with his mother (Cheri Honkala, a long-time Philadelphia activist who has the interesting biographical quirk of being Jill Stein’s Green Party Vice Presidential candidate in the 2012 elections) and his half-brother (Guillermo Santos), a self-professed nerd who is dealing with his recent diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome.
His relationship with his brother is the most intriguing part of the film. There is an obvious love and camaraderie between the two. Webber feels proud and protective of the slightly dorky kid, and Guillermo cuts through his brother’s massive persecution complex and brings him back to Earth when he is in the middle of his latest pity party.
Warren’s relationship with his mother is a bit pricklier. He loves her and cares for her feelings, but they push each other’s buttons.
The movie also dips its toe into Cheri’s Vice-Presidential run, though it doesn’t really give it much context. How did Stein pick this obscure community organizer as a running mate? How did it affect her life and her family? How did all of this happen? Did she seriously think she had a chance running for a third party against a popular incumbent? What happened with that, beyond the obvious fact that she did not win?
However, that is just seasoning to the film, anyhow. Back in the present, Webber is trying to get used to life out of prison, trying to stay clean when most of his old friends are potential bad influences.
Eventually Webber tracks his dad (also named Mark Webber) down in the suburbs and visits him, talking with the man for the first time since he was a little boy. The dad turns out to be much tamer than Cheri’s stories suggested, and he and his son reminisce on lost opportunities before dropping a bombshell about his life. Apparently, Webber had also just reunited with his old man in the leadup to the film, and they pretty much recreated that for the film.
For the record, his mother is a natural on camera. His half-brother a bit awkward, but mostly likable and often surprisingly insightful for a 13-year-old. However, Warren’s dad just can’t act. He looks self-conscious and stilted even when he is recreating his own experiences.
Webber shows skill as a director and is also arresting as an actor. He has a lot of good ideas here, sadly many of them come off half-baked. And, strangely, his character is probably the least defined of his family members. He’s obviously an angry man, a man who has gone through hard times and wants to be a better person, who wants love and acceptance. But, honestly, who isn’t? What is it about his story that would make the audience want to watch it?
Also, as a Philadelphian, it is rare that I’ve seen my hometown looking so downtrodden on film. I have lived in the city my entire life, and the only place I recognized on screen for the entire length of the film was from a piece of local TV news footage spliced into the story. Which is fine, I suppose Webber and I grew up in different areas of the city, but still couldn’t he have found some more intriguing, picturesque settings, or at least more interestingly disheveled ones?
I feel a little bad coming down on a film that was obviously such a labor of love. I have no doubt that Webber’s heart was in the right place. I briefly met the director after the film’s screening at The Philadelphia Film Festival and he seemed like a very nice guy. I wish him nothing but the best in his career.
That didn’t make Flesh and Blood any more enjoyable to sit through, though.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 22, 2017.