By JAVIER DOSAMANTES
“Strawberry Mansion” is a sci-fi romantic comedy set in 2035. It’s a future where our dreams are taxed and recorded on iPad-like devices hooked to beds.
The movie isn’t as dystopian as it seems, though. It is a hazy and whimsical story about a tax auditor that is tasked with going over the dreams of an eccentric older woman for dream auditing.
Upon finding out that she didn’t switch over to the new technology, and all her dreams are in VHS tapes, our protagonist has to stay longer than he anticipated to complete the job.
Of course, hijinks and a time-traveling romance ensue.
When I saw the trailer, I was excited to see this movie. It seemed like an ambitious, funny and refreshingly original project, but … it was meh. Maybe even bad, I don’t know.
This movie is like the NBA player Andrew Wiggins of small budget indie movies: Both show flashes of what could’ve been, but somehow they just couldn’t put it all together.
Judging by the trailer, “Strawberry Mansion” looks like a much more indie mashup of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep.”
Just like when you watch Wiggins’ high school or college highlights, he looks like a mashup of Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant.
Both are far from their obvious inspirations.
People love talent and potential. That’s why teams will keep giving Wiggins a chance and fans remain optimistic.
That’s also why this movie received such raving reviews and the directing/writing duo of Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney will keep getting their projects greenlit.
Their talent and potential are obvious. The aesthetic and mood of the film are analog, modern and quirky.
Audley and Birney did a great job on the cinematography and set design to create an almost Wes Anderson-esque atmosphere.
And the best part of the movie is the weird (in a good way) characters they created.
We were introduced to giant sailor rats who drink and play music, a frog waiter and a friendly grass monster.
Even some of the villains were exceptionally imaginative and funny.
Like the sea demon that lives a mundane life. The demon’s day consists of eating over-salted ground beef and watching the nightly news, then praying before going to sleep.
Great highlight reel for the indie film fest darlings. Yet, none of these great ideas are fully put together because of the bad writing.
Some critics have justified the sloppy writing on the pretense that it’s a metaphor for how dreams are non-sequential and nonsensical.
Those critics are nonsensical. There are many examples of how to pull off this metaphor without sacrificing the story arc’s thread (I won’t go through a list of French Wave Cinema, don’t worry).
However, this screenplay fixates disproportionately on the characters and worlds it tries to show. Constantly placing the plot on the back burner, ignoring it for long sequences and it ends up burning the overall movie.
It also drags through many acts without stringing them together, making it feel like a bad episode of SNL.
Audley, the writer and director, plays James Preble — the protagonist.
Preble does not have much dialogue and the best lines he has are as a narrator … a device that is sometimes used to mask the inability to organically communicate ideas through plot.
He did a good job at portraying the character, though. And the older eccentric character (Arabella Isadora) is played well by veteran actress Penny fuller.
Grace Glowicki plays Bella, Arabella’s younger self in the VHS dreams — who ends up being Preble’s love interest, and the character is used as a damsel in distress to give the movie a storybook feel.
Glowicki does an awesome job, and the gimmick works perfectly. But sadly, the dreamworld romance between Bella and Preble is underdeveloped.
Bella is overused as the messenger about the perils of advertisement and capitalism. Instead of subtlety weaving this message through dialogue, it is delivered through awkward one-liners
While watching “Strawberry Mansion,” I saw flashes of highly skilled filmmaking moves, even though I knew the movie was bad.
I kept waiting for it to get better or kept thinking about what could’ve been if tweaks were made to refine the overall product.
It’s almost the same experience basketball fans have had when watching Wiggins play in the NBA.
Audley and Birney are highly lauded in the indie film world. Their previous project together about a gorilla with a hand puppet show on a local TV station also received rave reviews.
We know the talent and potential are there, now it’s a matter of them putting it all together.
Or the audience might keep holding out hope in perpetuity for them to reach their ceiling — the same way basketball fans still hold out hope for Wiggins.