SIFF Film Review – Roller Town

Roller Town Movie Poster 1Everyone has their preferences in moviewatching as to certain genres they don’t like. For me, musicals and campy comedies just don’t click with my personality—the pausing of the action distracts me from the story. I had heard good things about Roller Town going into it, but I didn’t know it was a campy comedy, and when I found out I feared this might be a bit of an adventure.

Set in a town where rollerskating is a way of life, the story follows Leo (Mark Little), a gifted skater who has had a painful past following the murder of his father. He is one of the leaders of the rebellious disco movement. He meets Julia (Kayla Lorette), a girl from a rich and powerful family who connects with him, and together they try to change the repressed environment in their town.

I realize a lot of people like camp, but I just find it distracting. It is hard for me to remain engaged in a story when you are constantly getting sidetracked with plot devices that aren’t important. I feel like camp exists in the absence of story, essentially loosely stitching together a bunch of ideas for funny scenes—and that is totally fine, but for me it is too easy to get distracted if I don’t have to pay attention. Generally I’m okay with things being a little wacky, as a long is there is some base to connect it to. The problem with Roller Town is that it feels like it is being crazy for the sake of being crazy. I feel like there is an immense amount of material to be parodied in the world of disco and rollerskating, so there was no need to include things like the “disco god” or the weird jokes about corn that just feel like they are trying too hard.

Despite the campy humor of this project, there are a couple of underlying topics that are pretty compelling. For instance, the use of video games as an allegory for drugs is pretty clever, and actually pretty accurate in its own right. The filmmakers use it to play for laughs, but it is still a pretty elegant representation. Similarly, the film uses music in place of the discussion of wealth, with the rich people enjoying classical music vs. the poor people’s taste in disco.

Roller Town 1

One of the natural comparisons for Roller Town is to Wet Hot American Summer, as it feels like this film was inspired by it, and there are a fair amount of similarities in their structure (wacky comedy, social commentary). The difference is that Wet Hot American Summer not only excels in those areas, but it also does a fantastic job parodying summer camp movies. In this regard, Roller Town feels like a copy of a copy…it is clever, but not quite as sharp. And while the acting has its moments, it never reaches the high bar set by Wet Hot American Summer.

At its core, the film is a retelling of the classic Romeo and Juliet storyline, with two people from opposite sides of the tracks falling in love. In terms of chemistry, I thought actors Mark Little and Kayla Lorette were pretty good together, but with all the wackiness in the movie, the love story is actually the most straightforward and normal part. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, these two lovers really don’t have serious threats to their relationship along the way, and any problems are brief hiccups. For a film that is a relationship story at its core, it ends up being a pretty bland one.

Roller Town 2

The film is produced by and stars the sketch comedy troupe Picnicface. I only had the vaguest familiarity with them going into this movie, so if you don’t know them it won’t hurt you. Of the troupe, Mark Little definitely feels like the actor with the greatest chance of breaking out, much in the same way Donald Glover did for Derrick Comedy when they made Mystery Team. I don’t think this was a slamdunk venture for them, but I certainly see potential going forward.

Look, I realize that I’m not the target demographic for this film, so I when I saw it was a campy movie I more or less knew what to expect. That being said, there are exceptions to every rule, and honestly I found Roller Town to be one of them. The story is pretty ridiculous, but there is a good natured quality to it that makes it enjoyable. Roller Town isn’t going to be a classic, but there is a certain charm to the film that makes me content in having seen it. Also, the film is an incredibly brisk 75 minutes…and really it is only that long because of all the side trips that they take during the story. So if you are worried about checking it out, it isn’t too much of a gamble.

Roller Town screens June 1st at 8:30 PM at the Kirkland Performance Center.

Final Grade: C+


Spencer was born and raised in New Mexico. He grew up with the many great films of the 1980’s before having his world rocked after seeing The Usual Suspects. He moved to Washington State to go to the University of Washington, and currently any free time he currently has is split between working on film projects and watching films.

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