Written and Directed by Ivan Malekin and Sarah Jayne
Starring Lara Deam, Whitney Duff, Genya Mik, Asleen Mauthoor, Jess Riley, and Dan Hill
Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
The genre of mumblecore may be unfamiliar for some viewers, but it essentially means low budget and/or improvised in nature and indie filmmakers Ivan Malekin and Sarah Jayne have offered up a bubbly slice of mumblecore cinema with their feature film Friends, Foes & Fireworks, which experiments with not only improvised dialogue but also improvised camerawork. The result is a fantastic piece of naturalistic cinema, but ultimately slips on a few storytelling fundamentals.
Set during New Year's Eve, a night synonymous with drama and tension, host Fiona (Lara Deam) is being reunited with her friends after a seemingly significant hiatus. As the guests arrive, it becomes increasingly apparent that plenty of issues simmer beneath the surface of this friendship group. To explore all the dynamics at play in this story would be difficult, not least because the unknown chaos of them is part of the appeal, however it is definitely worth introducing the players.
There is Sofia (Genya Mik), a once-famous actor who now teaches, if from a position of cynicism. Then there is Zoe (Jess Riley), a wannabe actor with a strong selfishness. There is also Summer (Asleen Mauthoor), an actor - are you sensing a pattern yet? - who has feelings for Lucinda (Whitney Duff), an actor who has recently had breast enlargements, and her uninvited, and enduringly positive, English quasi-boyfriend Taron (Dan Hill).
There is something very authentic about the approach that Malekin and Jayne take in Friends, Foes & Fireworks that transcends the simple fact that everything is improvised. Indeed, they have tapped into something that is quintessential about the coming-of-age and onset of early adulthood experience that is remarkably compelling; the inability to evolve and manage relationships that worked perfectly fine when you were younger. As we see these characters mingle and talk about how their lives have changed, the awkwardness between them is palpable. This atmosphere is then bolstered by the improvising, with the performers accidentally cutting each other off and talking over each other. Viewers may find this jarring to begin with, but stick with it as it really suited the movie as a whole.
The pacing has a few issues, with the initial third taking time to get interesting. More conflict was needed earlier on and audiences could have benefitted from longer with each individual character before more were introduced. Taron was a wonderful injection of life and energy to the story, and Hill plays him brilliantly, but he could have been introduced a bit later for more impact.
The sound design and original music by Gerard Mack is excellent during the Friends, Foes & Fireworks, elevating certain scenes and creating more emotional punch. For me, more music was needed during certain sequences where there was none in order to give them more depth. Some of the moments in Fiona's apartment felt a bit flat which then drew too much attention to the unconventional filmmaking.
That being said, I would strongly urge viewers to seek this film out for several reasons. The use of improvisation is daring and mostly well executed, which for a feature length is commendable, and the thematic strengths of the story and characters offer plenty to chew on.