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With hair by clipper guard #3, cowboy shirt wearing, El Camino driving, Esper (writer, producer, director, Matt Farnsworth) has just lost his father who left him a healthy life insurance policy and a murderous stepmom (Rosanna Arquette) with an evil cop lover (Micheal T. Weiss) out to get the cash. Esper's pops also had a healthy meth lab which inspires Esper to go into the meth business along with his girlfriend Donna (Diane Foster). They steal a "Meth Manufacturing for Dummies" manual and rope his best friend and a underworld connected stripper into helping them setup business. And, of course, they are all tweeked out of their minds which makes dealing with rival drug dealers, homicide-inclined cops, and each other all the more difficult.
Iowa is pretty shabby stuff, nothing you haven't seen before (better) in the litany of modern drug films. The second Donna and Esper find his dad's stash, they snort platefulls of crank and the downward spiral begins with predictable results. It really jumps right into things and there isn't much depth or backstory given to anyone, thus no clues into why they are prone to sinking into this lifestyle. As such, the characters are drawn in one note cliches: the shrill scheming step mother, the villainous, corrupt redneck cop, the worrisome, cardigan on his shoulders, widowed father, the goth girl junkie, the wiggy wigger, best bud junky, the violated angel girlfriend, and our unlikeable, thoughtless protagonist. Donna and Esper are basically rock stupid and void of the depth or quirks that would make anyone give a damn about them. The cast surrounding them is painted in similar generic seedy terms.
There are some pretty headscratching choices made in the directing and scripting. For one, the inserts are pretty clumsy and the film falls back on the usual drug film visual cues like speed ramping, quick cuts, and distorted lenses. For some reason, when Esper has a sexual fantasy daydream, it cuts to jazz age porno vision, grainy back and white, complete with old timey iris. I would not have been surprised if Donna had morphed into a flapper. I dont mind a novice director aping other peoples style or playing within a genre frameworks tools, but you still have to inject some panache somewhere, an inspired sequence, a coaxed performance, some snappy dialogue, a fresh plot twist. Farnsworth does none of these things. Its just a succession of ugly characters, predictable plotting, and unintentionally hilarious melodrama.
The DVD: Koch.
Picture: The adventures of hooked hicks with addicted ticks is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen. Looks fairly good for an indie. Technically there were a few compression glitches on my disc and some slight noise. Otherwise, the prints only drawback comes from the usual low budget film quirks like bad lighting which results in overall weaker details in the color, sharpness, and contrast.
Sound: Iowa is presented in 2.0 Stereo with English subtitles (for the hearing impaired). This is a terrible, flawed mix. In terms of dialogue it has the usual low budget quirks like the odd bit of low level recording. The big deficiency is the severe reverb on the fx and soundtrack. The tracks are positively drenched and it sounds like you are underwater every time the score and action sound kicks in.
Extras: The extras feature a trailer and two cuts/alternate versions of a meth documentary from Farnsworth, "Poor Man's Dope" (37:19) and "Dying for Meth" (42:27).
Initially, I found it pretty amazing that Farnsworth launched Iowa after making a doc about meth, the key subject being a woman who had 60% of her body burned in a meth fire but continues to use along with her mother and husband. I found it amazing because Iowa goes through the usual cliched, drug film beats instead of the assumed documentarian's eye for naturalism. Then I watched the long form version of his meth doc and it made a little more sense.
A disturbing glimpse at a real abuser, "Dying for Meth" is sabotaged because it is packaged like a PSA made for the FUSE network. A true cautionary tale edited by hipsters- or more precisely, by someone who thinks this is what the kiddies will like. It actually almost plays like a parody, if only it were so, complete with funny interludes where a voice over guy says "Just one time!... Just dont do it!" with accompanying edgy graphics of the slogan. Farnsworth and Foster host it (they were the two person crew who made the docs), and they are all primped, dressed up, and fauxhawked, delivering righteous commentary that makes it appear like there was much more self serving vanity rather than humane morals that went into producing the docs and the eventual film. I mean, when you've got a documentary subject that is a woman burned up like a tater tot over her crank addiction, do we really need, in addition, two actors preaching to us about the dangers of meth? Methinks not.
Conclusion: I usually lean towards the forgiving side when it comes to indies. Getting any film made is a miracle, even more so on teh indie circuit where the monetary and connections are flimsier stuff. Unfortunately, Matt Farnsworth's Iowa just offers up the same old drug film cliches and stereotyped characters. Rent it, but only if Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting, Spun, Badlands, Natural Born Killers and Requiem for a Dream are already out.