An amiably silly free-for-all farce more reminiscent of low-budget '60s whimsies (e.g., John Korty's "Crazy Quilt" and "Funnyman") than most contempo indie comedies, "Starving Artists" feels a little too fresh-outta-film-school to pose much commercial threat, but it does rate as a solid calling card for tyro writer-helmer-star Allan Piper.

An amiably silly free-for-all farce more reminiscent of low-budget ’60s whimsies (e.g., John Korty’s “Crazy Quilt” and “Funnyman”) than most contempo indie comedies, “Starving Artists” feels a little too fresh-outta-film-school to pose much commercial threat, but it does rate as a solid calling card for tyro writer-helmer-star Allan Piper. Shot in the Boston/Cambridge area, pic opens a theatrical run there in March.

Morass of comic complications is kicked off when struggling playwright Zach (Piper), whose latest apocalyptic stage comedy is in rehearsal, meets pretty aspiring graphic artist Joy (Bess Wohl) — whom he alternatively manages to charm and offend in a series of slapstick blunders.

Turns out they both live in the same apartment building, where Joy’s friends Jay (Joe Smith) and Doris (Sandi Carroll) — a director and cinematographer who are currently shooting their own indie neo-noir while resisting a mutual romantic frisson — also reside. Zach’s oddball flatmate, Bob (John DeVore), thinks the noises being made by this film crew are those of real, murderous criminals; he plays detective to disastrous results.

Piper keeps the scenes busy and the pacing fast, which helps because his nonstop gags fall flat as often as they’re inspired. Satirical aspects re film and theater conventions are just so-so, and a late shoot-’em-up violates feature’s sweet-natured tone. But individual character quirks and throwaway jokes are often quite funny. Even at its most strained, film has an insistent desire to please that’s disarming. Lead perfs are rendered in a nicely naturalistic style, as contrasted with over-the-top figures sketched by a large supporting cast.

Production evinces more resourcefulness than polish on clearly rock-bottom means, willfully making use of unslick still photo montages, hand-drawn credits, et al. One way Piper raised funds was by promising to somehow sneak onscreen the name of anyone who donated $1 or more, a gimmick that proves just as distracting as you’d expect.

Starving Artists

(Comedy)

Production

A Panorama Entertainment Release of a Fest Films production. Produced, directed, written, edited by Allan Piper. Co-producer, Catherine Burns.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm), Robert Ballo; music, Claire Harding; art director, Christie Allan-Piper; sound, William Shamlian; associate producers, Daniel E. Chambers, Jennifer Smith. Reviewed at San Francisco Indie Film Festival, Jan. 8, 1999. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Zach - Allan Piper Joy - Bess Wohl Jay - Joe Smith Doris - Sandi Carroll Bob - John DeVore
Camera (color, 16mm), Robert Ballo; music, Claire Harding; art director, Christie Allan-Piper; sound, William Shamlian; associate producers, Daniel E. Chambers, Jennifer Smith. Reviewed at San Francisco Indie Film Festival, Jan. 8, 1999. Running time: 98 MIN.

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