Director & Writer: Matthew Manson Cinematography: Catherine Goldschmidt Editing: Arielle Zakowski Starring: Malcolm-Jamal Warner, David Bloom, Chaize Macklin, Donis Leonard Jr, Lawrence Mandley. Short Film Review by Andrew Moore
As the film’s trailer and teaser inform us, based upon an upcoming feature film, the Tribeca Film Festival selection Film Short Wannabe by Matthew Manson is a lightweight (in a positive manner) glimpse of (as it states) ‘New York City – A Long Time Ago’ and very much a homage to those classic US teen flicks of the 80/90’s which many (myself included) still hold dearly to our hearts although our own teens are but a distant memory. Against the backdrop of a summery New York, Wannabe captures perfectly a sense of place and mood (added to by natural sound editing) and injecting this with just the right amount of humour and further complemented by music from Billy Joel to The Pixies. If I was to describe this well produced short film as fun, light and irreverent I would be doing so in a positive manner because the director Matthew Manson and his talented cast know how to augment this with just the right dose of humour to legitimise the film’s style and its knowing and equal sense of homage/nostalgia for those of us who’ve already experienced films from this period whilst making it equally fresh and relevant to those who haven’t. This level of duality is all achieved seamlessly which is much to its credit and there’s an acute awareness of the subtle nuances which give it its sense of legitimacy without overburdening what is meant to be fun, funny and enjoyable.
As for the performances, David Bloom (who played Kevin in Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First day of Camp among other roles) fits the mould perfectly as the geeky, slightly (occasionally more than slightly) awkward yet ‘trying to be cool’ Jewish kid Daniel trying to ingratiate himself with streetwise Jamaican girl Emefa (Chaize Macklin who is also excellent) whilst attempting to deflect her attentions from a (far cooler) rival for her affections and (hilariously) trying to ingratiate himself with her father at a family picnic. It doesn’t detract from their performances to say they could drop into any teen film from the short’s intended period seamlessly (but then that’s surely the point)!
The rest of the cast supplement the two key characters central performances perfectly which is perhaps to be expected as most of these guys are experienced actors including Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Luther (Theo Huxtable from The Cosby Show). Still it’s great to see a film short with positive, natural acting because when this isn’t the case, due to the film’s brevity one bad performance can jeopardise everything. Thus getting everything balanced in a short film, making it appear effortless, great fun (further augmented by Daniel’s bearded Orthodox interlude sequence and the also the end credit out-takes) and engaging is a compliment I having no problem giving to Matthew Manson’s film.
Obviously, with regard to the director’s intended Wannabe feature film then storylines, motivations and characters would need to be greatly padded out and developed but there’s more than enough scope here and avenues for the plotlines to achieve this whilst maintaining Wannabe’s central theme of a slightly awkward Jewish-American teen ingratiating himself into the affections of an Afro-Caribbean American girl and her family whilst developing an affectionate Goldberg’s-style look down the reverse telescope of our recent history. I would like to think the film (as a feature) would keep its footing firmly on the humorous side of racial differences whilst we root for our two central protagonists. Wannabe clearly wants to make us laugh (and achieves this) whilst celebrating its characters’ cultural differences (through humour and burgeoning teen romance) in a positive manner without the overbearing weight of too much analysis and I’d congratulate it for that.