MOVIE REVIEW: Mr. Roosevelt

(Image: Entertainment Weekly)

(Image: Entertainment Weekly)


Official selection of the 5th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival


When a performer steps out on a precarious limb to write, direct, and star in a personal passion project, especially on the independent film level, a statement and a two-fold question on the topic of commitment come to mind.  The statement would be an applauded celebration for an artist pouring their heart and soul into the creative process from top-to-bottom to wear all of those hats.  The question would be half for the value of the end result and a half for just how personal, and even autobiographical, the project got.

For Mr. Roosevelt and comedienne Noel Wells, the figurative limb of cinematic risk is real.  Very fortunately, the statement of celebration is valid and the two-fold question is answered with a casual and assertive “plenty” for both halves.  Winner of the Narrative Spotlight audience award and the Louis Black “Lone Star” award after debuting at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Mr. Roosevelt deserves every spotlight of attention, every smirk of flattery, and every raised eyebrow it has coming its way.

Wells plays Emily Martin, a former Austin, Texas native who has spent the last several years giving comedy and acting a go full-time in Los Angeles to middling success.  She’s recognized more for her viral YouTube work, which isn’t exactly winning over any crabby cattle call auditions.  One night, Emily gets a call from home that a certain “Mr. Roosevelt” is in poor health.  Spending her last stable dime, she immediately takes the flight home to be by his side, but it too late.

Mind you, the fuss ended up being about fuzz.  The titular mister was Emily’s cat that remained with her ex-boyfriend Eric (the multi-talented Nick Thune) when she left town.  The former rocker and partying partner-in-crime Emily remembered and loved has been cleaned up, fueled by Klonopin, and tamed down by his new prim-and-proper fiance Celeste (Britt Lower of Sisters).  The house Emily and Nick once shared has been fashionably updated and her old stuff became faded memories and forgotten trinkets packed in cardboard boxes out in the backyard shed.

LESSON #1: SEEING EXES WITH NEW PEOPLE-- Coming home to grieve already overwhelmed Emily.  Feigning success and trying to reconnect with Eric worsens her nerves further.  This lesson is harder for the one half that didn’t evolve.  Eric changed for the better and Emily didn’t or hasn’t, and it shows.

Motivation from a free-spirited old friend named Jen (TV performer Daniella Pineda) pushes Emily to get her life in order to move on.  Nevertheless, a hot mess like her tends to make more hot messes beyond just a few feet thrust into mouths.  In the end, it’s not really about the cat, though the death of it is the impetus.

Shot on 35mm, the Mr. Roosevelt has a slight DIY feel, but a polish of strong and invested storytelling removes any misgivings of amateurism.  With opening credits that recount her own youth, Noel Wells stands assuredly raw, bravely tall, and without caution both on-screen and behind the camera.  Wells shows towering confidence to outwardly live in the skin of character lacking that next level of confidence.  For every time she is funny on purpose, she is funny by accident twice as often, in a brilliant balance of dark comedy.

This entire film is a head-turning and striking first impression if you missed Noel’s single season on Saturday Night Live four years ago.  As aforementioned with a passion project like this, you beg and wonder how autobiographical a wild story like this has to be.  No matter if it’s true or entirely created, the appreciation measures the heavily positive same.  The jokes come from all angles and hit with every effect from belly laugh to full cringe.  Calling Well or Mr. Roosevelt the buzz word of “quirky” would be a disservice to her talent and effort.


LESSON #3: THE CHARACTER TRAIT OF SELF-PITY-- “Self-pity” is defined as “self-indulgent dwelling on one's own sorrows or misfortunes.”  That’s the bullseye on the target of every one of Emily’s dartboards of issues.  Everything seemingly going wrong centers on self-pity.  

LESSON #4: LIBERATION IN ITS MANY FORMS-- Liberation from one’s troubles, especially self-pity, can be found in friends, sex, drugs, and other escapes.  Eventually and hopefully, each person can find that freedom from within without the vices and outlets.