Film Review – Asthma
You ever have a movie where you want to scream at the screen everything that is bugging you about what is happening? If so, Asthma is the film for you! There is a vibe we get off of a film where we can sense what kind of film it is trying to be, in this case indie dramedy, taking on issues of importance like drug addiction and finding that one person you dream of being with. That’s what it wants to be, but what it actually ends up being is one of the most unfocused excuses of film-making combined with two of the most poorly constructed characters seen this year, creating an almost unwatchable mess.
Our lead Gus (Benedict Samuel), a nonconformist rocker type, is seen leaving a painting job and then proceeds to go home and, in what appears to be a state of depression, paints his entire apartment white including furniture, posters and bookcases, and then tries and fails to commit suicide. Okay, from the start this doesn’t work– we know nothing about Gus, what his life is like, if he works, what has made him depressed–the list goes on. The idea seems to be we can see he is damaged but as we go deeper into the film the idea of suicide actually makes less sense. After the failed attempt to kill himself he steals a car and uses the money he finds there to buy drugs and then notices Ruby (Krysten Ritter) walking down a street.
We then cut abruptly to a flashback and see Gus meet Ruby at a concert where he poorly hits on her before she mentions she has a boyfriend. Then we are immediately brought back to the present and they are acting like they are old friends, and Gus offers to take Ruby to see a friend who she is tattooing. Now we pause again to mention how ineffective this all is. We have no idea what the relationship is between these two, and the flashback actually works against the film since it contradicts the easy-going rapport they now seem to have. Apparently that was unimportant in terms of letting us get to know them which, considering this is basically a buddy movie, leaves us knowing virtually nothing about these two characters!
As we follow these two blank people we find that Gus loves Ruby but she thinks they should just be friends. She objects to his stealing the car when he tells her but she does nothing about it. They crash the car and argue, and then Ruby sleeps with Gus but still just wants to be friends. When they get to the friend’s place he turns out to be an indie rocker with a bunch of quasi-hippie people who preach random philosophical ideas about the world. Oh, and Gus gets visions of a werewolf (voiced by Nick Nolte), basically a guy in a wolf mask who gives him advice though he never seems to follow it or react to it in any real way.
Is it becoming clear why none of this works? Nothing connects to anything else! People say things and then act like nothing happened. We are constantly told stuff but none of it ever connects to what we are seeing. Why does Gus love Ruby? Why does Ruby want to spend any amount of time with Gus? Why is he seeing a werewolf when everything else is “normal?” Here is a big one: why did he try to kill himself at the beginning of the film?????
Besides these delightfully underdeveloped characters we get poor production value, including several strange cuts where the film jumps ahead a scene in the most jarring way possible leaving us more confused than before. Adding to that we have Gus talking so softly a lot of the time that he is impossible to understand, and there are also so many quirky side characters that our leads barely react to and therefore we forget about them almost as quickly as the film does.
I kept wanting to scream out, “Characters, we want characters!” I understand that not every film needs to be character-based, and that the atmosphere or the action can propel a movie forward. But when you actively focus on two people you need to give us something about what is driving them, any little detail works. Shock moments only can give us part of the picture. If you want to make a world of ideas and people you actually need to give us a sense of what kind of world these people inhabit. Director Jake Hoffman‘s attempts here are something I cannot fathom, or what kind of message he was trying to bring, and what is worse is I have no desire to even try to figure it out.