An annual touch-football game among old college friends supplies the occasion, and apparently spontaneous structure, for a complex roundelay of interpersonal interactions in “Turkey Bowl,” frosh helmer Kyle Smith’s laid-back comedy. Smith and cutter Brian Wessel cannily edit the pic to approximate real time, so that crosscurrents of tension seemingly ebb and flow amid the huddles, strategy sessions and brief spurts of action on the field. This SXSW-feted curio will find appreciative auds when it bows June 3 at Brooklyn’s ReRun Gastropub. Its 64-minute running-time and minimal plot, however, will block the no-budgeter from wider play.
The casual, once-a-year summer football competition, with its pointedly unseasonable prize of a frozen turkey, assures an artificial continuity to friendships no longer connected to anything but the past. Six male and two female regulars constitute the core group. Two strangers, a black and a Latino, are invited to join the all-white mix, adding an extra level of awkwardness and providing an excuse for extended introductions.
The characters have clearly drifted apart since college. Some of their exchanges, flaring up at a missed pass or a poorly thought-out play, hint at unresolved grudges or broken-off romances. And two of the players prove absurdly, fiercely competitive, triggering assorted insecurities and resentments among the others.
Neither inspirational sports saga nor hard-bitten “Longest Yard”-type allegory, “Bowl” offers few transcendental revelations; there’s nothing at stake here other than frozen poultry. Events unfold on a flat, nondescript section of a Los Angeles park, the boundaries demarcated by T-shirts and gym bags, and all the players (except Kerry Bishe) are portrayed by relatively unknown pals of the director and referred to by their real first names. What fascinates, though, is the orchestration of the divergent elements, interweaving nuances of character with intricacies of amateur athletics on a moment-to-moment basis.
The filmmakers’ commitment to simulated real-time documentation demands that the game be played in its entirety, complete with timeouts and intervals between downs, with no elisions or effects. Indeed, the sole exception, a kickoff rendered in dramatic slo-mo and scored to swelling music (the track is normally grounded in unadorned source sound), registers as comic relief. Since quarterbacks are randomly selected, and whoever is calling the shots varies from play to play, everyone’s part must be constantly improvised and renegotiated.
This ongoing improvisation, along with the completed passes and resulting chest-bumping celebrations or recriminations, serves to define these otherwise “ordinary” ciphers and lend shape and momentum to an otherwise plotless movie.
Tech credits are unobtrusive.