SXSW Film Review – The Bounceback
One of the many things I’ve discovered since I started attending SXSW is how vibrant Austin’s film scene is. Sure, I had been familiar with bigger names coming out of the area, like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Matthew McConaughey, but I’ve seen an impressive assortment of independent projects coming out of the city, too. One of the notable filmmakers is director Bryan Poyser, who made a triumphant return to SXSW this year with his new comedy, The Bounceback.
The story follows Stan (Michael Stahl-David), who decides to takes an abrupt trip back to Austin upon hearing that his ex-girlfriend Cathy (Ashley Bell) is heading home, in an attempt to win her back. Upon arriving, he runs into trouble with his friends Jeff (Zach Cregger) and Kara (Sara Paxton), who are in the midst of their own relationship troubles. The story of trying to re-romance an old flame is hardly new territory, but this is probably the first time it has been set against a backdrop of the famed air-sex competition at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, you are interpreting it right—it is that silly. The film definitely fits in that category of shock comedy, along with films like American Pie and Scary Movie. Look, I like an outrageous joke as much as the next person, but as far as a film worthy of repeat viewings, I don’t feel that there is longevity here that will keep The Bounceback among other comedy classics.
There are other strengths, though. The plot crosses back and forth between the “guys” and “girls” storylines, providing a nice rhythm. In essence, it could be cut together as two shorter individual movies that would still make perfect sense and still be pretty funny, which just further highlights the craftsmanship. As simple as the love story is between Stahl-David and Bell, I’m glad Poyser gave it some depth and thought, rather than just copping out for the easy Hollywood-style ending. Being a shock comedy, the film does zig and zag in a lot of predictable ways, but the way the relationships are handled is probably the most realistic aspect of the story.
It is hardly a surprise that the most entertaining part of the movie is Cregger and Paxton, since they are essentially playing the comic relief. As much as I enjoyed Bell (and it was very nice to see her in a non-Last Exorcism capacity) and Stahl-David, they are essentially playing straight characters, and with that all the vanilla attributes it brings. It is the extreme juxtaposition with Cregger and Paxton that makes their behavior seem that much more outrageous and entertaining. I’m not sure if it is a strength or weakness to be so leveraged on your actors’ supporting work, but it is hard to argue with the results. I’ve long been a fan of Cregger. His previous work on projects like The Whitest Kids You Know, Miss March, and Friends With Benefits have clearly helped him hone his comedic chops, so his impressive performance wasn’t much of a shock. The real big surprise was seeing Paxton step up to the plate. Coming from a background that would be described as largely “Disney-esque” (with a smidge of horror thrown in), it is really great to see her push boundaries with her comedy and her impressive willingness to make fun of herself.
Prior to seeing this film, I had been mostly unfamiliar with Bryan Poyser, but I had heard of his previous film Lovers of Hate, which played at SXSW a few years back. Despite my lack of familiarity with his work, I was impressed by his tight direction, keen eye for visuals, and his astute sense for snappy dialogue. The Bounceback feels like a bit of a love letter to Austin, as it is clearly directed by someone who loves the town and does an excellent job of showcasing the city and the various locations therein. This affection seems to go both ways, as he received a thunderous applause at the premiere screening. One of the biggest takeaways from this movie for me is a keen desire to go back and watch his previous films.
Like any good shock comedy, the film is fun; it will generate plenty of belly laughs, but seeing it one time is probably sufficient to get everything it has to offer. This is the kind of film that benefits from a boisterous audience, though, so if you have interest, definitely try to see it in a theater. It might be fine on home video, but it probably won’t be quite as entertaining. It might not leave a lasting impression, but it is a pretty fun way of spending a couple hours.
Final Grade: B