You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Mount Joy’

This drama about a Pennsylvania indie-rock band wraps a thin story in an appealing visual and musical package.


Jay Della Valle, Katie Hyde, Brandon Lee Harris, Timothy Hoobler, Matt Watson, Nathan Gregory, Jillian Louis, Lou Martini Jr., Marcin Paluch, Sean Gallagher, Josh Eves, Kate Hodge, Bilgin Turker.

There’s a certain indie-rock authenticity and some real filmmaking chops to “Mount Joy,” though the care and affection expended on this indie drama’s audiovisual packaging are regrettably lacking in the script department. Portraying a rural Pennsylvania band’s crisis when its manager (also the frontman’s g.f.) takes a sudden, inexplicable hike, it has a song lyric’s virtues — a feel for emotion, some vivid imagery, the odd insightful detail. But at the length of a full feature rather than a 45-rpm single, it badly needs the blanks of psychological depth and narrative complexity filled in. Pic should do well amongst smaller North American festivals (and those angled toward music movies), with potential for regional theatrical exposure and home-format sales perhaps fueled by tie-in live performances.

Living in picturesque semi-squalor in their late parents’ farmhouse are siblings George (Timothy Hoobler), Randy (Brandon Lee Harris) and Alex (Katie Hyde), who are bassist, drummer and manager, respectively, for the Living Daylights. Its songwriter-singer-guitarist is a boy named Sue (Jay Della Valle), so it figures he’d be head over heels for a girl named Alex. Though they can only be so big a deal in this backwater, they’ve acquired enough of a following, and Alex has sent out enough demos, to orchestrate a first national tour — even if it’s just the kind that means driving in a van overnight from one dive club to another. But on the eve of its start, Alex disappears, leaving scant explanation and no means of contact. She claims she’s taking business classes in New York, but clearly something else is going on.

Her departure deprives the band of its logistical brain, but even more importantly, it leaves Sue completely rudderless. Despite his like-Springsteen-but-punkier air of working-class rock-god cool, he can barely live, let alone create, without his muse. He crawls into a bottle of booze, emerging only to do his day job as a garbage collector, while the tour unravels, date by missed date. Goofballs Randy and George are willing to soldier on as a band, but they lack the authority to motivate Sue likewise. When Alex does turn up, unannounced and intending just a brief stay, she refuses to divulge the truth, but it eventually comes out anyway. Suffice it to say she’s hiding some bad news in order to spare others grief — the kind of noble sacrifice that, in movies, just prolongs everyone’s suffering until they all reunite to face tragedy in a final lovefest of tears and hugs.

Trouble is, there’s really nothing of substance between the initial establishment of relationships and the climactic melodrama (which manages to include a barn fire). In place of characters who deepen under duress, there are lots of montages of people hanging out together, or sitting around looking bummed out, set to admittedly pretty cool tracks by Pennsylvania indie-rock bands. At times, “Mount Joy” is reminiscent of “The Grungies,” the grunge-rock spoof of the Monkees on “The Ben Stiller Show,” offering the same mix of wacky, rather childish hijinks and “edgy” alterna-lifestyle cred, albeit without the satirical intent. While fetchingly put together, these musicvideo notions of how to advance character don’t build the actual emotional investment required for what’s ultimately a straight-up tearjerker.

The sole attempt to provide additional conflict beyond the poorly developed central one is via a couple redneck bullies (Marcin Paluch, Sean Gallagher) who show up on occasion to bust up the joint. But they’re strictly one-dimensional, and never integral to the thin main narrative. Nonetheless, “Mount Joy’s” accomplished, energetic surface offers sustaining pleasures of its own, despite the lack of connective tissue beneath. Producer/d.p. Mark Sparrough’s anamorphic widescreen lensing highlights an impressive overall tech/design package. The performers are likable enough, particularly the more comically attuned supporting ones; several are actual musicians as well as actors, notably Della Valle, who’s recorded several CDs and performs the Living Daylights’ appealing songs (which he also composed).

Pic was shot on location in Lancaster County, Penn., the hometown of director Jack Lewars, scenarist M. Angelo Mena and various other participants. It’s also where “Witness” was once shot, though no Amish folk are glimpsed here.

Film Review: 'Mount Joy'

Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival (competing), Feb. 1, 2014. Running time: 86 MIN.


An Indie City Films presentation. Produced by Katie Hyde, Mark Sparrough. Executive producers, Courtney Clayton Bush, Taylor Choyce, Barry Dangerfield, Linda Dangerfield, Nick Delcarlino, Nitin Jain, Joe Gawler, Steve Milliken, Mark Novitch, Louise Novitch, Patrick Raher, Rosalinda Raher, John Sambalino, Michael Sparrough, Kathleen Sparrough, Dave Streltsoff, James Wood, Andrew Yerre, Leah Yerre.


Directed by Jack Lewars. Screenplay, M. Angelo Mena. Camera (color, widescreen, HD) Mark Sparrough; editors, Alan Lowe, Jonathan Sanden; production designer, Angela Cullen; costume designer, Tammy Gibbens; sound, Randy Matuszewski; assistant director, Christopher Shea.


Jay Della Valle, Katie Hyde, Brandon Lee Harris, Timothy Hoobler, Matt Watson, Nathan Gregory, Jillian Louis, Lou Martini Jr., Marcin Paluch, Sean Gallagher, Josh Eves, Kate Hodge, Bilgin Turker.

More Film

  • Come as You Are review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are'

    The rare remake that’s actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, Richard Wong’s “Come as You Are” translates Geoffrey Enthoven’s 2011 Belgian “Hasta la Vista” to middle America. Other changes are less substantial, but this seriocomedy has a less formulaic feel than the original while remaining a crowd-pleasing buddy pic-caper with a soft-pedaled minority empowerment [...]

  • Strange Negotiations review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations'

    In a era when some mainstream entertainers have transitioned to targeting faith-based audiences, David Bazan is moving in the other direction. The gifted songwriter’s ersatz band Pedro the Lion was perhaps the most successful Christian indie rock act of its time, and the first to significantly cross over to secular fans. Then he ditched that persona (and [...]

  • Bluebird review

    SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’

    As affectionate as a love letter but as substantial as an infomercial, Brian Loschiavo’s “Bluebird” may be of most interest to casual and/or newly converted country music fans who have occasionally wondered about the songwriters behind the songs. There’s a better than even-money chance that anyone who’s a loyal and longtime aficionado of the musical [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED More Reviews SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are' SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations' New Regency and Michael B. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content