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Film Review: ‘Pasadena’

A fine performance by Peter Bogdanovich lends some — but not nearly enough — vitality to this middling dysfunctional-family dramedy

A fine performance by Peter Bogdanovich lends some — but not nearly enough — vitality to “Pasadena,” a middling dysfunctional-family dramedy set inside a sleek modernist house in the titular SoCal burg. The title of writer-director Will Slocombe’s third feature seems intended to invoke both a place and a state of mind, though with the exception of Bogdanovich’s splenetic paterfamilias, the characters and their attendant crises are so broadly drawn, we might just as soon be in “Encino” or “Toluca Lake.” Pic should see modest traction with Amerindie-centric fests following its Sarasota world premiere and possible limited theatrical exposure, en route to a VOD platform near you.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A big, messy, eccentric brood gathers together during that high season for familial contempt, aka Thanksgiving, only to come to the grudging realization that they don’t quite despise each other as much as they thought. Here, the inciting incident is a visit home from long-absent daughter Nina (Alicia Witt), a chain-smoking free spirit in fur coat and streaked hair, who shows up with her latest boy-toy (Wilson Bethel) in tow and quickly sets about stirring up dormant resentments and betrayals. On the receiving end are sister Lindsay (Sonya Walger), stepmom Deborah (Cheryl Hines) and half-brother Jacob (Ashton Holmes). Just about everyone, it turns out, is in dire financial straits and hoping for a handout from “Poppy” (Bogdanovich), a UC Berkeley academic and foreign policy adviser brought low by his support for the Iraq War.

The filmmakers clearly have “The Royal Tenenbaums” in mind, a precise alchemy of flawed humanity and mannered style more easily attempted than achieved. Shuffling about the house like a suburban Charles Foster Kane, Bogdanovich brings a certain sardonic gravitas to the table whenever he’s onscreen, but the other characters are barely sketched in, with declamatory dialogue taking the place of real emotion in Slocombe’s script. That said, “Pasadena” is perfectly watchable, with a reasonable level of technical polish (including Lucas Lee Graham’s coolly lit widescreen videography), if never particularly inspired or memorable — a common affliction of indie films in the DIY era.

Pasadena

Reviewed on DVD, New York, April 8, 2013. (In Sarasota, Newport Beach film festivals.) Running time: 83 MIN.

A Midway Films production in association with Burn Later Prods. Produced by Graham Ballou, David Mandel. Executive producers, Paul Bernon, Sam Slater. Co-producer, Kimberly Burnick.

Directed, written by Will Slocombe. Camera (HD, widescreen), Lucas Lee Graham; editor, Lauren Connelly; music, William C. White; music supervisor, Leslie Frazier; production designer, Raelyn Tepper; costume designer, Rita Squitiere; sound, Matt Burgette; re-recording mixer, Scott Kramer; assistant director, Ricky Lloyd George; casting, Paul Ruddy.

Cast: Peter Bogdanovich, Ashton Holmes, Alicia Witt, Sonya Walger, Ross Partridge, Amy Ferguson, Wilson Bethel, Cheryl Hines, Azar Beaudoin, Jet Jurgensmeyer, Victoria Tennant, Nicolas Coster.

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