|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
2006 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
FAREWELL BENDER deserves attention and some praise simply
because it attempts to do something different with the genre of films
dealing with high school students (or those not too long out of high school).
Loosely inspired by events in the life of its young co-writer-director, Matt
Oates, the movie brings together three twentysomethings who had been
pals in high school. Stan (Eddie Kaye Thomas) now works for the county
but has terrible luck with women. Ladies' man Mitch (Kip Pardue) is
an out-of-state college senior struggling with questions about his future.
Dixon (Josh Cooke) spends his time in a chemically enhanced state and
being angry with the world. The trio is reunited in 1996 after the death of
another friend, Robert Bender Mason.
One doesn't need the press notes to see the various films that
served as jumping off points for Oates and his collaborator, Jeremy
Lowder. There are elements of AMERICAN GRAFFITI and
DAZED & CONFUSED as well as a soupçon of both
RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN and THE BIG CHILL.
Oates has cast his film well, and I particularly enjoyed the
storyline anchored by Eddie Kaye Thomas. His character Stan always
seems to want the unattainable woman and when recent returnee Kelly
(Marisa Coughlin) approaches him, the audience expects that perhaps
his luck is about to change. Their scenes together are sweet and
charming and both actors play them beautifully.
The other actors do well with their roles, particularly Pardue as the
rich kid who managed to escape the small town by going away to college,
and Cooke as the self-medicating screw up who is one step away from
crashing. There is able support from Kayle Cuoco as a high school
student with a longstanding crush on Pardue's Mitch, Alexandra Holden
as Stan's ex-girlfriend, and Chris Mulkey as a sympathetic priest.
After years of raunchy sex comedies, it's great to have a film
about young people that attempts something more. FAREWELL
BENDER does it -- and does it quite well.