When asked to diagnose himself early in “Inside the Rain,” Benjamin Glass, a college film student played by Aaron Fisher, cheerfully runs down a checklist: “I’m bipolar, ADHD, OCD, borderline personality disorder… You name it, I’ve got it.” It’s a moment that is at once both amusing and unsettling — even more so if you’re aware that Fisher, who also wrote, directed and co-edited this offbeat indie dramedy, is describing his own real-life medical condition.
Indeed, knowing all that inevitably influences your response to the entire film, much of which plays like an engagingly freewheeling mix of autobiography and wish-fulfillment. Fisher, an ingratiatingly ordinary-looking fellow who could be plausibly cast as Jason Biggs’ taller and beefier kid brother, commendably refrains from making his cinematic doppelganger easily likable. Especially but not exclusively during Benjamin’s frequent manic episodes, he comes off as almost unbearably obnoxious, if not downright scary. A meltdown scene involving an angry Lyft driver, Benjamin’s frantic father, and a suitcase filled to bursting with purloined coins starts out as quite funny, and then suddenly isn’t. And as it escalates, the suspense is cringe-inducing because there’s no way to predict just how badly things might turn out.
At the same time, however, Fisher is shrewd enough, both as a filmmaker and lead player, to maintain a suitable amount of sympathy for Benjamin, if only because of his boundless, albeit possibly self-delusional, determination to become a multi-hyphenate.
After plummeting from a manic high into a deep-blue funk, Benjamin overdoses on his meds in his dorm room. It’s obviously not his first suicide attempt — judging from the reaction of his mom (Catherine Curtin) and dad (Paul Schulze), they’ve almost gotten used to this sort of thing. But skittish students and school administrators fear the worst, leading to a mistaken perception of a planned repeat performance. Insisting he has been wrongly accused — and, worse, marked for expulsion under the university’s “two-strikes” rule — Benjamin decides to make a movie to present as exculpatory evidence.
Yes, you guessed it: a movie he plans to write and direct, starring himself as Benjamin Glass.
“Inside the Rain” is so fresh and audacious in so many ways that it’s a bit of letdown when it leans heavily on the cliché of the Gold-Hearted Hooker — or, in this case, the Gold-Hearted Porn Actress and Part-Time Escort — to provide Benjamin with inspiration, emotional support, and, most important, a female lead for his film.
Emma, the sex worker played by Ellen Toland, is never entirely credible as a character; at times, she seems to be tolerating Benjamin in the manner one might treat an occasionally unruly pet. (A nice touch: She helps him with a campaign to crowd-source his movie’s budget.) Truth to tell, despite Toland’s game performance, Benjamin seems better suited for close encountering with Lindsay (Rita Raider), a waifish pixie — another cliché — that he meets during one of his sporadic psych ward stays.
Among the supporting players, Rosie Perez is a standout as Benjamin’s no-BS, Noo Yawk-accented therapist, who isn’t at all reluctant to suggest that maybe, just maybe, he has been looking for love in all the wrong places. And Eric Roberts, well cast as a once-successful producer who’s been reduced to living in his mother’s garage, makes a memorable impression simply by periodically popping up while wearing Hawaiian shirts loud enough to be heard in neighboring zip codes.