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Friday
Feb092018

From Hollywood to Rose (2016)

Bridal Fare

Like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, From Hollywood to Rose is unstuck in time. Though set in modern-day Los Angeles, writer Matt Jacobs' screenplay sounds like one of those talky, pop-savvy reactions to the Kevin Smith phenomenon that littered late-nineties art houses--and its dreamlike interludes with after-hours oddballs wouldn't be out of place in 2001's  Waking Life. As co-directed by Liz Graham, the movie comes across as a mid-period John Waters joint, complete with over-the-top quirks and costumes, and acting that might most generously be described as "iffy".

Eve Annenberg plays Woman in Wedding Dress,* a middle-aged bride-not-to-be whom we meet shortly after she leaves her fiance at the altar. Wherever she's headed, she needs a bus to get there, and the film follows her for several hours as she collects people and experiences, and takes stock of her sad, twisted life. Among the late-night commuters are a violent criminal with an affinity for sewing (Krzysztof Soszynski), a mail-order bride (Chia Chen), and Woman's almost-sister-in-law (Isadora O'Boto), who isn't thrilled about the afternoon's events.

She also meets a pair of tubby slacker dudes who gladly press "pause" on their aimless evening to include Woman in their profane and deeply obsessive discussions about comic books, Star Wars, and Bruce Lee. For a fleeting moment, it seems as if Jacobs and Graham will abandon the people-watching motif in favor of a bizarre relationship comedy, as the more sensible but utterly directionless of the two guys (the "Dante", if you will, played by Bradley J. Herman) becomes infatuated with Woman. This detour doesn't last long, and the filmmakers wisely balance the rest of Woman's journey with a parallel look at the encounter's impact on the rest of the guys' evening.

Taken at face value, From Hollywood to Rose is a spaghetti-on-the-wall assortment of alternately funny, frightening, and flat run-ins that are meant to, I guess, elicit nods of recognition from anyone who's ever had to traverse the wasteland of broken dreams that is Hollywood, California. But if the filmmakers treat their characters as a collective freak show, it's at least one that Tod Browning would have been proud of. Jacobs and Graham show real affection for and grant dignity to even the most cartoonishly rendered, throw-away parts (I'm looking at you, Melt Down Bus Driver). And even though half the performances left me wondering about the low caliber of actors who didn't make the cut, I couldn't help but get swept up in the heart that emerged from Jacobs' words.

Which brings us back to Woman in Wedding Dress. I attribute much of the success of Eve Annenberg's performance to her incongruously wide, expressive eyes and slack, unimpressed mouth. Her character experiences every interaction on two levels: the first in the here-and-now, taking in with great interest the assortment of disillusioned, heartbroken, or dangerously naive passengers and passersby; the second in the glimpses we see of her past and the mental picture we're invited to paint of the hours leading up to her first steps onto the bus. Annenberg registers a constant state of shock more authentically than any performer I can recall right now, and it's impossible not to want to see a split-screen of the real-time and and imaginary information flooding her mind's eye throughout the film.

Woman's trance shatters briefly toward the end when, after a dawn beach swim, she has the penultimate conversation of her eight-hour odyssey--in which she talks more than during the preceding sixty-plus minutes/ The liberation of Annenberg's thoughts from her mouth signify Woman's breaking (or at least cracking) of the spiritual chains that have shackled her for years. I won't give away the person with whom she speaks or the outcome of their chat, but I will say that this moment sealed the deal for me.

From Hollywood to Rose may have no idea when its time was or who its audience is. It may lack the conviction of its actors in rendering characters as either wholly believable or utterly farcical. It may even push the boundaries of how "inside L.A." is too "inside L.A.". But in its rocky, weird, and colorful struggle to present the human condition as universal in its freakishness, the film reminds us that we've all been a Woman in a Wedding Dress at some point or other, looking for something we can't quite describe and (hopefully) finding it in our fellow travelers.

*Most of the film's characters are listed only as costumes or character traits.

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