Review of American Fork

American Fork, directed by Chris Bowman and written by Hubbel Palmer, showed at the 2008 Gasparilla Film Festival.

Marketed as a fresh comedy from the producer of 2004’s hit comedy Napoleon Dynamite, this film left the audience waiting for relief from the tragic nature of Palmer’s characters. Tracy Orbison (played by Palmer) is an obese grocery store clerk in his mid-late 20’s with “big dreams.” He enrolls in an acting class taught by a local theatre star Truman Hope, played by Billy Baldwin.

Tracy is an easy push-over for Truman, his coworkers, and his new juvenile delinquent friends. Little development occurs within these characters, and Orbison’s gullible, sheltered nature is close to impossible for an audience to relate to.

Scenes of him buying beer for the fathers of the high school kids, and agreeing to assist in a robbery to help a imaginary illegitimate child is too much of a stretch to believe Tracy’s innocence. Tracy’s hopes are never really fulfilled and the small chances he finds never follow through. His dismal existence continues only to end exactly where he began.

The writing and acting in this film were mediocre at best. Palmer and Kathleen Quinlan delivery of lines seemed especially forced and unnatural. It is no surprise Palmer envisioned his character in an acting class. Billy Baldwin carried the film for the majority. His over-the-top acting brought the life to his character that the others lacked. Even in Truman’s case, however, the audience is built up to anticipation only to be let down by the casual transition of Baldwin’s character from “Self-Absorbed Has-Been” to “Friendly Live-In Boyfriend.” There is no reason to this besides sharing a vague peculiar nature with Tracy’s sister, Peggy.

The opening of this film however did have an eye-catching yet misguiding appeal. To no fault of the filmmaker this part was ruined for the Gasparilla Film Festival audience at Channelside Cinema. Apparently there was no one watching the soundboard and the levels were booming at a very uncomfortably high peak. It was possible to imagine the ideal viewing environment still. An elaborate animated credit/title sequence with catchy music welcomes the audience to what is expected to be much like the comedy type of the recent films Juno and The Savages; dark, real, revealing, but funny.

The constant let downs and vague dive into the dark soul of this obese nobody never goes deep enough. Nothing is revealed. The bad guy is just the bad guy, and the fat guy is still the fat guy. Palmer has his characters thought out, but does not yet seem to know them well enough. He can make them interact, but not necessarily react in a form natural to their reality and lifestyles. Consequences and reality seems to apply only to certain characters and times. This comedy is one that is plainly just sad.

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