Billed as the completion of an informal trilogy about Southern California musicians, following 1987’s “Border Radio” and 1999’s “Sugar Town,” Allison Anders and Kurt Voss’ “Strutter” is a genial throwback to the slew of deadpan indie comedies that followed in the wake of “Stranger Than Paradise” nearly three decades ago. It probably would have fared better commercially back then, but this breezy tale of Los Angeles hepcats, shot in retro-cool black-and-white, is enjoyable enough to attract scattered niche sales in all formats, possibly enhancing theatrical gigs by tying them to live musical ones.
Brett (Flannery Lunsford) is in a funk — not to be confused with a funk band, which would hardly be his style. The never-seen girlfriend he swears is the love of his life decided to end their relationship just as they were about to move in together. Now instead, he’s moving back in with not-entirely thrilled mom Lu (Luanna Anders) and her on-and-off boyfriend, Frank (Craig Stark). At least Brett’s still got his ’60s garage-psych band — until the other members start announcing that they, too, are moving on to greener pastures. Adding insult to injury is the news that his ex has started going out with Damon Welsh (Dante White-Aliano), the musician/music historian/record-store owner who’s his personal idol.
The perilously slight, loose screenplay gently kicks Brett down to various comically low ebbs before pulling him up again, notably via a romance with film buff Cleo (Elyse Hollander), and a desert road trip taken with Frank and Damon. This voyage is partly a pilgrimage to honor the spirit of late country-rock guru Gram Parsons, and elsewhere the pic often plays like a checklist of acquired tastes that bestow coolness on the devotee: Lee Hazelwood, John Cassavetes, tiki bars, etc.
A project like this, obviously made with friends and family, can easily become too insular and self-congratulatory. But Anders, Voss and a likable cast (largely composed of musicians, natch) extend their good times to the viewer by maintaining a self-deprecatory, casual, shaggily humorous tenor throughout.
Adding cachet is an original score by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis (who appears during the closing credits to perform a guitar-store solo), though onscreen perfs by other bands are at least as appealing. Entirely crowdfunded via Kickstarter, the pic’s sub-$25,000 budget is belied by polished packaging, with Voss’ monochrome lensing taking good advantage of under-the-radar locations.