Movie: Small, independent movies about small town life are common enough to shake a stick at. One of the major axioms of moviemaking is to make a movie about something you know. For many aspiring directors, that means something involving their hometown. Such was the case with a little flick by director Bryan Goldsworthy and writer/lead performer, Wendy English, known as Searching For Wooden Watermelons.
The movie is a slice of life flick that centered on a twenty-five year old gal Jude Farnie, a gal that has become a professional student at the local college in order to keep her options open and avoid having to choose a path to take in life. The movie took place in the real life hometown of Ms. English, Beaumont, Texas, an admittedly small town that is located near Houston, a world mecca by comparison. She has kept her boyfriend on the hook for years and while he wants to settle down, she's not sure, plotting to leave town with a like-minded friend, Riley Jefferson (played by her real life friend, Chad Safar). The two plan to leave town and never look back, following their dreams to make movies in southern California. Riley runs the local movie house and has big dreams but little drive and Jude has lesser dreams but even less drive to get out of her rut and move along with her life.
The movie is semi-autobiographical as written by Ms. English, who obviously knows what she's writing about. The story dealt with all the usual twists life throws people and the theme was easily discerned from the myriad of quips the cast tossed out as the movie progressed. The movie was at its best when English and Safar interacted with one another (which makes sense) but bogged down towards the end or when the other characters argued with Jude. I got the feeling that Ms. English felt less comfortable writing the fighting scenes but had a lot of experience with living them. That's one of the problems with acting in your own story and making it all happen; sometimes you get a bit too close to the material.
Overall though, the themes were handled quite well and showed enough spark to make me want to see more from Wendy and Safar (who bore a striking resemblance to Jack Black). The limitations of the budget were more problematic than the writing or acting problems (outside of the leads, the quality fell off rather quickly in most ways) but even so, I liked the movie enough to rate this one as Recommended if you enjoy this type of release. I've seen enough mainstream movies about following your dreams to know when I see one with a bit of newness to it. Searching For Wooden Watermelons has enough unique material to warrant checking out, give it a look.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.78:1 ratio widescreen color as originally shot on 16 mm. There was a lot of grain and some video noise with all the flaws a low budget film has but it added a "look" that made it seem all the more realistic. The movie will never be known for its technical expertise but I'm willing to bet the budget was less than the amount of the catering bill on a decent sized Hollywood release.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 stereo English but I didn't notice a lot of dynamic range on the vocals and the separation appeared to be minimal with most of the vocals coming from my center speaker. From the behind the scenes feature, it looked like it was originally shot in stereo but later processed to the 5.1 set up for marketing purpose. It wasn't top of the line but the vocals were clear enough and the music was pretty solid for such a release.
Extras: Extras are not generally very plentiful on smaller independent movies but Searching For Wooden Watermelons actually had some decent ones. My favorite was the audio commentary that starred Wendy English and Bryan Goldsworthy. They talked about the movie as well as their attempts to get it made, often proving that they pushed beyond their personal limitations to do the impossible. The Behind the Scenes feature, The Making of…, was also quite good and showed the insecurities that smaller filmmakers suffer with. There was also a section of deleted scenes, a photogallery, and a trailer to the movie as well as a double sided DVD cover. While not exactly enough to set the world afire, this was a good selection of extras for this type of release and I enjoyed them as much as the movie itself.
Final Thoughts: Small town life is certainly not for everyone and Wendy English figured this out in time to break free of her roots. Had she stayed in the rut that her life had originally dealt her, she'd be barefoot and pregnant with several rug rats running underfoot rather than making movies as good as this one. The theme of gaining enough courage to do what you want to do out of life was a bit obvious but the overall movie was better than I had a right to expect. Check it out if you enjoy such small budget films.