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The Astrid Experience

average rating is 2 out of 5


William Hemingway


Posted on:

Aug 21, 2023

Film Reviews
The Astrid Experience
Directed by:
Cal Barnes
Written by:
Cal Barnes
Cal Barnes, Lucia Xypteras, Rob Conroy, Mena Santos

LA is a seriously weird place. It's full of seriously weird people. It's a place where anybody will do anything just to get their face on camera or their name attached to a production, no matter how small, dubious or sexually suggestive the production happens to be. David Lynch has tried several times to relate just how seriously weird LA, and in particular Hollywood, really is, most notably through his 2001 masterpiece, Mulholland Drive but in the UK the closest thing we've ever had to this kind of ego driven mania (aside from the BGT drivel) was a small segment on 90's TV show The Word called The Hopefuls.


Each week one lucky contestant was picked from obscurity to tackle an outrageously disgusting task in order to get their face on television, with particular highlights ranging from licking the sweaty armpit of a morbidly obese person, to eating verucas and corns like they were breakfast cereal, to the guy who was sick into a glass, only to drink it, be sick from it again, and then drink it all up. In fact this last example is a pretty good metaphor for Hollywood and in particular today's offering, The Astrid Experience, which seems to regurgitate a plethora of LA stories without realising what a bad taste they leave, only to lick them up and vomit them out again.


Cal Barnes is the plucky Hopeful in charge of production on The Astrid Experience, taking on the roles of producer, editor, writer, director and star. Choosing to write himself into a story which is supposedly based on his own experiences, Cal has come up with the character of Chase Abbott, a down on his luck actor and script writer who has just come out of a relationship with the hottest girl in the world. She left him – I wonder why? So Chase is left spiralling into despair as his industry pals try to rally round and get him back in the saddle in a Swingers-esque kind of fashion, only without the humour, kitsch sentimentality or actual scripting which elevated Jon Favreau's 1996 film to classic status.


Instead, we have to wait two years while Chase pulls himself together enough to get back out in the world and start going to auditions again. As luck, fate, or induced second-hand vomit would have it, here he meets the next girl of his dreams, only he doesn't know it yet. After helping Astrid (Xypteras) out of an innocuous situation and then randomly meeting her later outside of a downtown nightclub (because that regularly happens in LA), Chase is invited on a hedonistic tour of the hip celebrity bars, pool parties and single level living which the LA nightlife regularly offers.


This large section of the film is seemingly intended to play out like Richard Linklater's (non-LA) classic, Before Sunrise (1995) as the two new lovebirds spend a wondrous night together hoping to find out as much as they can about each other before the sun comes up and a new day dawns. However, in lieu of actual conversations covering love, philosophy, art and the inevitable transience of human nature, Chase and Astrid only talk about what's right in front of them conversing about buying drinks, the bar they were just in, or the party they're now at. “I like your car.” “It's a good car.” is one example of the level of exchange offered by these two LA grade geniuses.


Moving on, the inevitable LA ennui begins to take hold and an attempt at gaining the feel of Sofia Coppola's own classic LA story, Somewhere (2010) bubbles up from through the scenario. That is until Cal decides to write himself a happy ending and gets Chase to do what every other cheap, dodgy film-maker in LA does best – auditions and casts the girl he wants to snog in his own film opposite him. At least this part is Hollywood accurate.


It's a shame that The Astrid Experience tries to emulate so many already classic movies as it does each one of them a disservice. Whereas the originals are full of fun or gravitas and genuine characterisation, Barnes' film is empty and vacuous and laughingly simple in its dialogue. Shot on an iPhone8+, undoubtedly due to budget constraints, but probably also to try and add an edgy, neo-realist feel to the production like that other great LA story, Tangerine (2015), there's nothing noteworthy going on behind the camera. There are some beautiful, luxuriant shots of the LA skyline regularly interspersed as establishing shots, but these were filmed by a third party company, definitely not on an iPhone, and they sometimes jar with the in-scene photography.


The music may be the only positive to The Astrid Experience as the easy beats from John That, Matt Osenton and Academy fit in nicely with the night lights and LA lifestyle. With John That also on board as producer it's no surprise that he pops up, along with Cal's other industry pals, half way through the film to get his mug on screen and promote himself in that very particular Hollywood way.


The Astrid Experience is one of those typical Hollywood beasts, trying to tell cool LA stories which us normals can idolise and aspire to, just doing what it's doing without really seeing what it's actually up to. It's no accident that Cal Barnes has written himself as the romantic lead in his own movie, or that he's brought his industry pals along for the ride. It's also no accident that the entire scenario is just an excuse to run pretty girls around in skimpy outfits for ninety minutes, with Cal getting to cop off with the prettiest one. It's definitely not just an oversight, as that would require some actual thought and respect, that no woman in this film is thought worthy enough to be credited with a last name, and to be honest the whole thing comes across as crass and woefully stuck in adolescent male fantasy. Although, perhaps that's all Hollywood ever was anyway.

About the Film Critic
William Hemingway
William Hemingway
Indie Feature Film
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