Directed by: Christopher Flippo Starring: Chris Schulz, Geoff James, Emily Landham, Carter Kinsella, Jackson Pyle Indie Film Review by: Jack Bottomley
So many films deal with mid-life crisis, nostalgia or yearning for times gone past but it is less common to see a coming of age tale where actual young adults onscreen are looking back more than they are forward. All of us reach points in life where we consider what might have been or analyse what has been. In fact, for many of us, it is a constantly recurring issue: Are we reaching our potential? Are we making the most of what we have? Do we need to change? All are interesting quandaries to dissect on the big screen and in Christopher Flippo’s film; we have a movie that feels real and intimate in dealing with such human questions.
Down and Yonder is a feature length adaptation of the director’s 2014 short film The Future West and unlike many short-turned-features, this film makes perfect use of its well decided running time. The picture sees Southern town friends Wally (Chris Schulz) and Steven (Geoff James) living in a cycle of hanging out, working and reminiscing but Wally constantly wonders whether there is more that he could/should be doing in life and when he meets young woman Mara (Emily Landham), he is forced to consider this even more. Filmed on location in Rossville and Chickamauga, Georgia, Down and Yonder has a great deal of passion behind it and evokes a less extreme Trainspotting in its themes of young adults in calamity and boasts a very Richard Linklater-like style.
Flippo’s film has long stretches absent of Richard Malstrom’s soundtrack, instead using it at certain moments for even more impact and otherwise relying on select country music or indeed silence. Like Tarantino, the dialogue is given priority and like Linklater Flippo captures a great sense of internal exploration and a kind of subdued wonder as he looks at realistic young adults and what is on their mind at this quarter life crisis point. The conversations are meaningful, insightful and at points humourous, while Flippo unflashily directs and instead lets his subjects melt into their setting - well captured by director Brenson Greene.
As Wally and Steven (jokingly but also rather affectionately nicknamed ‘Sugar Baby’) reminisce about their high school days, meet up with troublesome past pal Mason (a fast talking Corey Ryan Forrester) or discuss their feelings on their lot in life and how it compares to expectation, we are swept along in Wally’s daze and Steven’s contentedness. These two characters, despite living in a different culture to many viewers, will feel awfully familiar to those of a certain age and as the film shows us the way life can distances us, how memory can transfix us or how we can never really predict what is to come, we come to be involved with this relatable and comforting story of two longtime buds.
The acting is pretty great, with Chris Schulz making an excellent lead as the increasingly disillusioned Wally and Geoff James being a fantastic cohort in the likable Steven. The two friends are superbly suited to be the core of a story like this, which sees two guys growing up and finding their footing in the challenging waltz of life. There is also some excellent support by Emily Landham as Mara, the lady who Wally starts falling for and who offers him a way forward but ultimately offers him the chance (in the film’s hopeful last chapter) to mend bridges fractured by differing ideals on life. There are a few other good performances from the cast too, including Regina Nicole, Carter Kinsella and Jackson Pyle.
Down and Yonder is an unexpected treat that seizes the feelings of young adulthood, as some of us choose to grasp on to the school day times as life progressively throws us turbulence and others start thinking about just how to change the position that we are currently in. An impressive feature that, like Linklater, is humanist in how it looks at the passing years but not at the expense of being quite optimistic and, in its own subtle way, enthusiastic.