For time capsule use as an example of self-definition by a group of so-called Gen-Xers or slackers, “The Four Corners of Nowhere” has undoubted merit. Pic is also laudable as an obviously low-budget effort by a group of filmmakers barely out of school who decided to let nothing stop them from making a real movie with some entertainment value. All the same, this ensemble piece about a bunch of humorously ennui-ridden kids at loose ends is an inelegantly made, sophomoric piece likely to appeal only to the group whereof it speaks, limiting commercial dates to college-town venues and the odd urban slot.
Lensed in 23 days in the prototypical campus community of Ann Arbor, Mich., first feature by young writer-director Steve Chbosky willingly assumes the burden of trying to explain his generation’s aimlessness and resentfulness of the generations that preceded it, namely the ’60s-’70s hippies and the ’80s yuppies. Film’s saving grace is that he does this with a degree of humor, although the writing and delivery prove quite erratic.
Action is set in motion when nominal lead Duncan (Mark McClain Wilson), a withdrawn student of human nature, is picked up hitchhiking by wildman Toad (Eric Vesbit), a drug-loving ’60s throwback whose looks and audaciousness constantly bring to mind Howard Stern.
Arriving in Ann Arbor, they invade the household of Toad’s sister Jenny (Amy Raasch), an aspiring singer-songwriter who lives with the insufferable yuppie law student Calvin (Aaron Williams) and serves java at the local espresso hangout with Squeeze (Melissa Zafarana), the ultra-agreeable girlfriend of an artist, Hank (David Wilcox), with a permanent creative block.
Acting as a sort of singular Greek chorus is campus radio DJ Julian (pic’s producer, Julian Rad), who uses his nocturnal platform to rail at the ’60s as “nothing more than a bad movie with a great soundtrack” and take potshots at those of his own generation who subscribe to politically correct cant.
Along the way, the irrepressible Toad beds a number of women and manages to sandwich in an embarrassing piece of performance art, while Duncan slowly gets something going with Jenny. Unfortunately, the latter are a uniquely bland and uninspiring pair: Duncan is a relatively inert, opaque personality who fancies himself a modern Rimbaud, but is far too recessive to serve the film well as the central character, and Jenny imposes her self-centeredness on all in her vicinity and bores coffeehouse auds with her touchy-feely songs.
Chbosky’s writing, which shows a healthy inclination toward the humorous whenever possible and a bent toward satiric observation, seems more promising than his direction, which is serviceable at best and clunky at worst. Actors often are pushed into archly artificial line readings that are not matched by a parallel stylization in the filmmaking, which is visually undistinguished.
To the extent that the motivation behind the picture was to provide a portrait of the attitudes and complaints of students today, it is reasonably successful. But it doesn’t do much more than that, meaning that it leaves a great deal to be desired.