It's not a surefire formula for success, but independent filmmakers just starting out and low on cash would all be well advised to study the work of other filmmakers dealing with similar conditions. In particular, they should be watching those films that employ a small cast with few locations to see how those stories are told. Some of the best indie films of all time were launched using this equation of small cast and limited locations, the beauty of which being that it works for a host of genres. It worked for George Romero in Night of the Living Dead, Jim Jarmusch in Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law, Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs, and Kevin Smith in Clerks. Of course, all of these movies had interesting stories to tell, which is the essential ingredient in all films, no matter how big the cast, how many locations, or how much money they have to spend.
As a first time director, James Ricardo has stuck what could easily be considered the most tried and true formula of the low budget indie film. His debut feature, Opie Gets Laid, formerly known as Sunnyvale when it was on the festival circuit, employs a cast made up primarily of Ricardo himself and three actresses, and limits most of the action to a single apartment. With such a minimal amount of resources to work with, the success or failure of Opie Gets Laid rests primarily on Ricardo's abilities as a writer. And though the film has some problems, it succeeds more than it fails.
Ricardo stars as Opie, and unemployed, ambitionless junkfood junkie that's addicted to porn and masturbates chronically. He lives in a nice loft apartment that his uncle lets him stay in for free, and he only leaves to replenish his endless supply of junkfood, which he pays for with his unemployment benefits. When hippy-dippy pot dealer Thai (April Wade) comes to Opie's apartment by mistake, she invites herself in, and never quite leaves. Thai becomes obsessed with Opie, who's reclusive, ambitionless, misanthropic life to her holds some sort of allure, and she becomes determined to find him a girlfriend. But before the socially inept Opie can meet anyone on an Internet dating site, Thai hops in the sack with him, and soon finds herself a regular in his bed. Thai's lesbian lover Dakota (Ute Werner) becomes enraged when she finds out about the affair with Opie, but for her own reasons she is drawn to the slacker, and soon Opie is sleeping with her as well. Things become even more complicated when Rain (Jesselynn Desmond) answers Opie's personals ad, and soon she is also in the sack with him. When all three women find out about each other, they decide that rather than give up the low maintenance Opie, who will do pretty much whatever they want him to (except take his shirt off during sex), the ladies decide to share him. But this situation is far from ideal for our hero, whose life begins to spiral into a nightmare.
For a first time director, Ricardo could have done much worse. His script is good, and he gets good performances from his three lead actresses. His biggest problem is himself. Directors like Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood make acting in their own movies look easy, but it is actually incredibly difficult. Ricardo's deadpan performance as Opie is serviceable, but at times there is a self conscious stiffness to it that should have been caught by the director. By acting and directing, Ricardo may have bitten off more than he could chew, and I would be curious to see what he's capable of as a director who isn't acting, because directing seems to be his strongpoint. And despite the problems with his performance, he's not terrible--certainly not in the way directors like Tarantino and Spike Lee are terrible actors--and he doesn't ruin the movie.
Comprised largely of static shots and long takes, Opie Gets Laid is a lowbrow talking head comedy with a wittier than average script, but despite the sexual nature of the story, there is no onscreen sex. This might throw some viewers for an unpleasant surprise, but the lack of sex and nudity serves the film well, and raises the intellectual bar. Of course, if this were a lesser film in terms of script or acting, the fact that there is no nudity or sex would actually be a problem, because often times those are the only things that can redeem a movie.
Opie Gets Laid is what I like to call a good "festival film." These are the movies that play really well in a festival environment, where not having a known cast or a big budget is not a distraction, and audiences tend to be more forgiving. A good festival film can hold its own in the festival environment, but might not do that well on the shelves of a video store, where suddenly it is competing for the attention of a different type of audience, with a different set of expectations. This doesn't mean that a film's quality changes when it crosses over from the festival circuit to home video; but it does mean that it can be received differently. While it was in festivals under the title Sunnyvale, James Ricardo's movie was a quirky romantic comedy about sex that had no sex and starred a cast of unknowns. Now that it is on video, it is the same movie, only it is called Opie Gets Laid, which might throw people for a loop when they discover it is a quirky romantic comedy about sex that has no sex and stars a cast of unknowns. But if you can get past that, you should be entertained.
Opie Gets Laid is presented in 1.33:1 widescreen format. The picture quality is good, although there was a brief moment on the disc where the light levels seemed to fluctuate, but this appeared to be more of a random disc problem and not the film itself. There was also a moment that looked as if the print had been scratched (although I don't even know if there ever was an actual "print" for the movie). But these problems are all minor and fleeting, and in no way detract from the movie itself.
Opie Gets Laid is presented in English in 2.0 Dolby stereo. The audio levels are all good, with a decent mix, but sound itself has problems that most likely go back to the production itself. Some bits of dialog sound as if they were rerecorded, and there are moments where the overall quality of production sound recording fluctuates. It's nothing terrible, but it is noticeable.
Two separate audio commentaries, one with writer/director/star James Ricardo, and one with the three lead actresses. Honestly, I didn't listen to either commentary all the way through, as neither was enough to keep me engaged. Ricardo's commentary was far more interesting than that of the actresses, but it wasn't enough to keep me listening. It would have been better, and probably more interesting if all four participated in one commentary.
As long as you don't go in expecting a raunchy sex comedy filled with bouncing, jiggling female parts, and you're looking for a witty, dark comedy, then you should have a good time.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]