“Choose Connor,” child actor-turned-writer-director Luke Eberl’s lesson in realpolitik, presents an idealistic 15-year-old who becomes the teen spokesperson for a senatorial candidate in order to figure out how the world works. Unsurprisingly, he gets more than he bargained for. Whether or not one buys into pic’s vision of government as irreversibly corrupt, the leap from the general to the specific registers as unconvincing at best. Strong thesping and solid mise-en-scene often stumble against the script’s self-contradictory oversimplifications and fall through gaping plotholes, consigning this timely but flawed opus, which opened Oct. 10 at Gotham’s Cinema Village, to election-related smallscreen reruns.
Bestowed with a merit award at his middle-school graduation by local Congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber), curly-haired, friendless overachiever Owen Norris (Alex D. Linz) lands a summer job fronting for Connor on his “Children Are Our Future”-themed campaign.
Connor takes Owen into his backroom milieu, giving him a political education over a shared scotch and a series of cynical anecdotes and metaphors, each one more disturbing than the last. Meanwhile, Connor’s adopted nephew, Caleb (Escher Holloway), a comely, somewhat androgynous older lad with a gruesome gallery of handmade goth puppets, draws Owen into the private sphere, proffering weed, friendship and pillow fights.
Director Eberl excels in these intimate, homoerotic one-on-ones, which quiver with creepy emotional instability. Both Connor and Caleb are attracted to Owen’s fresh-faced innocence even as they seek to pervert it; Weber’s performance is particularly rife with all kinds of slithery admissions barely held in check.
But once “Choose Connor” ventures into the larger political arena, it begins to work against itself, and Eberl proves unable to settle on a viable level of abstraction. Unfolding in a nameless town in a nameless state, pic plays off the irony that Connor, initially trailing badly in the polls, owes his primary victory to Owen’s TV spots and speaking appearances — all of this occurring at the height of Owen’s disillusionment.
Yet, at the same time, Eberl posits an all-pervasive “system” that improbably grants everyone within its purview unlimited power, against which the law, the press and the people come up impotent. In this undifferentiated landscape of power, actual political conflict doesn’t appear to exist: Except for a briefly glimpsed poster, Connor’s opponent never even enters the picture.
Tech credits are competent, though Jim Timperman’s fine Super 16 lensing would be better served by a transfer to 35mm rather than to HD.