Review: ‘Next Time’

A taut character study about an interracial friendship that develops over time in a South Central L.A. Laundromat, "Next Time" proves impressive and absorbing despite an overly theatrical script and seemingly misguided performances. Arthouse distribution and cable TV rep distinct possibilities for this issue-oriented low budgeter.

A taut character study about an interracial friendship that develops over time in a South Central L.A. Laundromat, “Next Time” proves impressive and absorbing despite an overly theatrical script and seemingly misguided performances. Arthouse distribution and cable TV rep distinct possibilities for this issue-oriented low budgeter.

Yarn takes place in 1992, when 19-year-old Matt (Christian Cambell) arrives in L.A. from a small Midwestern town to realize his dream of becoming an artist. Matt, who’s white, chooses the cheapest apartment he can find, which is smack dab in the middle of mostly black South Central.

Matt is so unschooled on the ways of L.A. life that he turns up in town without a vehicle, making journeys to the West Side and beaches very rare. Needless to say, he’s very unhappy.

Matt’s only enjoyment comes from his Saturday night outings to the Laundromat, where he meets the other off-hour regular, Evelyn (Jonelle Allen). Evelyn is a single middle-aged black mother who must take care not only of her own children, but also of her children’s children, all of whom have been left without responsible parents of their own.

Evelyn is down on her luck, and after feeling ambivalent about the out-of-place Matt, she takes a liking to him, and the two become close friends. The emptiness of both of their lives makes their weekly meetings the only thing that, for either of them, allows for catharsis or real dialogue.

Pic confronts racial and inner-city issues straight on. Taking place almost entirely within the confines of the laundry, tale relies entirely upon dialogue to make its points and achieve its goals. Acceptance, drugs, violence, even the U.S.’ history of racial hatred are discussed by the characters. While the confrontational dialogue is a tad didactic, it’s refreshing to see an indie with something on its mind other than presenting an ultra-hip world in which hipsters try to do their thing.

Unfortunately, an obvious metaphor is used throughout the pic, which has to do with laundry (colors go in one machine, whites in the other; they’re never supposed to mix). Perhaps emphasizing this very convenient theme enhancer once would have been acceptable, but we’re constantly reminded how similar laundry segregation and racial segregation are alike, and it’s just silly after a while.

Pic is scripter-helmer Alan Fraser needs to work on his direction of actors. Allen and Campell take the juicy material and seem to throw their hearts into their work, but they are awkwardly melodramatic at some points, which seems likely to be the result of uncertain guidance from the director. There’s no need for many of the exaggerated facial expressions meant to represent a mood of anguish, and too many tears are shed. The material here is strong, so it doesn’t need all the exclamation points.

Pic concludes in an ambiguous, downbeat manner with the arrival of ’92’s L.A. riots and its effect on both the Laundromat and pic’s central relationship. Using the riot in the narrative is not only a surprise but is also very appropriate to pic’s “can’t we all get along” theme.

Tech credits are strong, and Fraser shows some noteworthy skill in his ability to create a compelling feature that’s mostly confined to one, aesthetically unpleasant room.

Next Time

Production

An Alhondiga Pictures Production. Producer, Minn Siegel; Executive producer, Mark Vega. Directed, written by Alan Fraser.

With

Matt - Christian Campbell Evelyn - Jonelle Allen
Camera (color), William Hooke; editor, Dave Greenberg; music, James S. Mulhollan Jr.; costumes, Esther Schrieber; sound; Jack Lindauer; line producer, Siegel; assistant director, Kevin Rolly; makeup, Robert Hall. Reviewed at Hollywood Film Festival, L.A., Aug. 8, 1998 (In Urbanworld Film Festival.) Running time: 97 MIN.
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