SXSW Film Review – Flesh and Blood
Flesh and Blood
Trying to be both a documentary and narrative film Flesh and Blood fails spectacularly at both. Going into this movie cold the first thought that came to me was is this a documentary? Because the acting by Cheri Honkala is really stilted. It’s as if she is giving a boring lecture and is trying to make it interesting but instead comes off as awkward. Then to find out that the film is trying to be both provided an explanation, but sadly didn’t make it any better.
The main cast is actually exactly who they say they are. Director and star Mark Webber plays himself as a man getting out of prison trying to get his life back and catching up with his teenage brother Guillermo who has Asperger’s Syndrome, while living with his mom Cheri Honkala, a Green party activist, with whom he appears to have some issues. Mark also hangs out with some old friends and attends some AA meetings and we meander along with him. It is an attempt at a documentary approach by taking on the real life issues he has but nothing is given the time or discussion to really make it work. As a narrative film we have the same problems of not developing the characters in order to really understand them and address their issues, compounded with the fact that they all are terrible actors who are very unnatural in their actions and dialogue and mainly talk in speeches rather than as people.
Mark has problems that are briefly connected to aspects of his family, his drinking and drug use, and a failed relationship, and yet nothing is given any time to develop. Instead issues are thrown at the screen at random moments to see what may stick. Mark’s past with his parents is brought up as the most consistent point but it is still poorly executed. We know his dad was out of the picture and he has issues with his mom but they are never explored. Most of her scenes feel more like Mark letting us know who she is as a politician not as a person. There is a really forced “fight” that he has with his mother that I am guessing he actually had with her but it comes off so randomly and the acting is so passionless that it feels like rehearsing for a play, not a part of a feature film. Cheri also tells her life story as an interview for Guillermo that is a really contrived plot conveyance to allow us to hear about her to presumably make us feel for what she went through but it never connects, partially because she is not a good actor and nothing she tells us builds or helps make these characters feel like people.
We move so quickly from event to event that nothing is ever given time to develop or even sink in as something important. As an example Mark has some flashbacks to a lost girlfriend–we see them kissing, her riding on his shoulders, and a voice over with her saying he is drunk. That is all we get and now in the present day when they meet we see she has a kid with another man and they have one minute of dialogue where half of it is her putting the child down and then by the end of the film the movie seems to think we should be invested in him being with her. There are so many scenes like this where the movie seems to believe we have learned some details or gained some knowledge that is building to something significant, but really it barely scrapes at anything. The film ends on this pretend build-up to Mark confronting something about his past but there is so little set-up and so little to the final talk that it is impossible to care one way or another about what happens.
Seriously, what was the point of this movie? None of these people come across as real, everything feels poorly staged with really bad acting all around, as well as excuses for random speeches that never come together. I can only assume Mark Webber was trying to go for realism but he is going about it the wrong way. We need to empathize or sympathize with the characters, and while I am certain that for him it means something, it would be nice if he actually let us in on the secret.