I love visiting Woodstock, New York. I usually head up there once a year or so, wandering up and down Main Street, admiring the psychedelic exteriors of quaint 19th century houses. Brightly painted purple banisters invite wanderers inside, where over-the-hill hippies sit around dusty bookcases, discussing Yeats and Keats. Overgrown backyards are filled with vegetable gardens, weeds, and weed. Actually, I've never spent time with any of these folks but it's not hard to imagine such activities taking place in this iconically bucolic setting. In the fictional Breakfast with Curtis, we are treated to just such a visit.
Syd is what my mother might have called eccentric, a Francophile writer, hoarder of vintage Parisian prints and collector of esoterica with a library to rival that of many small towns. With his wispy Ben Franklin hair, wandering through the garden in his underwear, wine belly exposed to the world, Syd might be mistaken for a drug-addled former rocker spending his days in acid flashbacks and dreams of party-filled days gone by. But a scratch of the man's surface reveals an intellectual treasure trove with a penchant for theatrical stream-of-consciousness conversation, often with himself, that never degrades into incoherence.
Enter Curtis, the equally enigmatic 14-year-old prodigy next door, an agoraphobic autistic savant whose only outside joy comes from playing the harmonica while tormenting his off-kilter neighbor's cat. The unlikely pairing of these two is at the heart of Breakfast with Curtis, a modern-day Cinema Paradiso, where an aging soul becomes mentor to a teenage boy through the love of film.
This character-driven story is full of them, from the quintessentially endearing grandma in deep thought on the porch to the bohemian couple with the mysteriously alternative lifestyle living upstairs to the boy's uptight but well-meaning parents next door. Then there's Dijon, the ubiquitous gray cat who is part comic relief-part inanity in an admittedly absurd milieu.
Writer/director Laura Colella's impressive third feature (Tax Day, Stay Until Tomorrow) is particularly notable in her location and casting choices. The film was shot in her own house and the one next door, using the residents themselves. All but one were non-professional actors. The performances certainly belie this, though, with dialogue so perfectly tailored to the characters that Breakfast with Curtis borders on mumblecore-style mockumentary -- feeling authentically unscripted while remaining supremely entertaining.
The pace of the action is leisurely but never lethargic, with just-in-time editing that always cuts at the most organic moments. The narrative is a slow burn that still manages to be punctuated with moments of joy.
The look of the movie is bright and cheery. Syd's house (The Purple Citadel) is awash with light, sunlit exteriors filtering through open windows into equally brilliant interiors. Breakfast with Curtis does not demand shadows and intrigue, and its lighting reflects the openness with which these folks interact. This is a no-frills production devoid of distracting effects and self-indulgent cinematography. Ironically, the film's low budget gave Colella the luxury of complete creative control, shooting and editing the film herself. This allows her to stay as true to the spirit of the story as possible -- laying bare the lives of these quirky families in a just this side of voyeuristic style.
Breakfast with Curtis takes its rightful place in the "sweet little American indie" section of the modern day cinephile's library. It's a truly magical peek into the lives of too-real American families that is as comforting as a backyard hammock on a Summer Solstice day.
NOTE: Breakfast with Curtis will have its World Premiere on Sunday, June 17 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It is a selection in the Narrative Competition.
For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com
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