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Film Review: ‘Sundowners’

Two videographers grapple with their own discontent while filming a couple’s wedding in Mexico in Pavan Moondi’s leaden indie comedy.

Director:
Pavan Moondi
With:
Phil Hanley, Luke Lalonde, Tim Heidecker, Nick Flanagan, Cara Gee, Nick Thorburn. (English dialogue)
Release Date:
Dec 15, 2017

1 hour 38 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5537330/

Two videographers find only messy misery in matrimonial work in “Sundowners,” an indie dramedy that’s good-humored without actually being humorous. Traveling to Mexico to document a wedding ceremony and, in the process, discover some purpose for their wayward lives, longtime buddies contend with a series of mishaps that are too tepid to elicit more than a wan chuckle, and don’t lead to anything of significance. Pleasant in the blandest sense of the term, writer-director Pavan Moondi’s film likely won’t entice anyone outside die-hard fans of cult-comic co-star Tim Heidecker.

Alex (Phil Hanley) is a Canadian wedding videographer whose career is going nowhere, both because he works for loudmouth boor Tom (Heidecker, vainly acting weird), and because he’s an off-putting sad sack who’s alternately whiny, wishy-washy and belligerent. When Tom offers him an all-expenses-paid assignment filming nuptials in Mexico, Alex jumps at the chance, and enlists his best friend Justin (Luke Lalonde) as his right-hand cameraman, this despite the fact that Justin is a kindred moper with no professional cinematographic experience.

“Sundowners” has Alex and Justin routinely bicker about things both minor and major, and always in a manner that feels as if their exchanges have been partly improvised. Despite such stabs at naturalness, however, the duo come across as abrasive and mirthless; for all their back-and-forths, they fail to land a single laugh-out-loud one-liner or comeback. There’s a fine line between being amusing and a grating anxious-glum failure, and in Alex and Justin’s cases, they frequently fall into the latter category — or, at least, into a middle ground of lifeless monotony.

The duo’s journey to Mexico is filled with misfortunes, including trips to the wrong airport and hotel. But like its protagonists’ tedious dynamic, the film never musters up any outright absurdity. Too often, the director quits on given sequences before they’ve begun to pick up momentum. That’s certainly true once Alex and Justin arrive at their intended destination, where the groom (Nick Flanagan) confidentially confesses to them that he’s bankrupt and under criminal investigation, the best man (Nick Thorburn) tells them that he’s in love with the bride (Cara Gee), and the bride’s sister comes on strong to Justin — as does her father (David John Phillips).

Moondi creates numerous opportunities for zaniness, only to refuse to commit to them because, to some extent, he also wants to take Alex and Justin’s crisis-of-confidence (and direction) seriously. It’s a balancing act that “Sundowners” botches, resulting in wannabe-witty sequences laced with too much anger and bitterness, and more serious hand-wringing moments that are consistently leaden. Nowhere is that more acutely felt than in a dual make-out session in a pool that’s interrupted by two out-of-nowhere bullies. Rather than spiraling out of control in loopy (and telling) ways, that confrontational encounter instead becomes an unpleasant example of repugnant masculinity.

The film’s handheld cinematography is a cut above the usual low-budget indie pack, and Nicholas Thorburn’s score does its best to keep the material lively. Despite being set in a beautiful tropical locale, however, the film — eventually falling back on lots of music-set slow-mo montages — proves as dull aesthetically as it is narratively.

Film Review: ‘Sundowners’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., Dec. 19, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Factory 25, The Orchard presentation of a Search Engine Films production, in association with January Films, Carousel Pictures, Daylight on Mars Pictures, Burning Blue, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Ontario Media Development Corp. Producer: Julia Rosenberg, Tyler Levine, Brian Robertson. Executive producers: John Bain, Julia Rosenberg, Tyler Levine, Brian Robertson, Diana Bustamante, Jorge Andres Forero, Majia Paola Perez.

Crew: Director: Pavan Moondi. Screenplay: Pavan Moondi. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Scott McClellan, Peter Dreimanis. Editor: Pavan Moondi. Music: Nicholas Thorburn.

With: Phil Hanley, Luke Lalonde, Tim Heidecker, Nick Flanagan, Cara Gee, Nick Thorburn. (English dialogue)

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