Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Film Appreciation - Mistakes Are Part of Being Young

Cody Hamman writes about Richard Linklater's Tape in the first installment of a Film Appreciation series covering the movies that he was watching ten years ago.

In my Film Appreciation article for Beautiful Girls, I mentioned that 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of my graduation from high school. At the time of my graduation in June of 2002, there were a handful of movies that I was watching over and over in a random rotation, and to mark the anniversary, several of my Film Appreciations this year will be about those movies.

One of the movies I watched repeatedly that spring was Richard Linklater's Tape, which was a new release then, having come out on DVD on April 16th, 2002.

Based on a play by Stephen Belber, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation, Tape is set in one dingy motel room and consists almost entirely of a conversation between two men.

Jon and Vince have been friends since they were kids and have kept in contact with each other over the ten years since high school graduation. Over time, they've become very different people. They're reunited in this motel room in Lansing, Michigan because Jon is an independent filmmaker who has a movie premiering at the Lansing Film Festival the next day. Jon seems to be a pretty well together guy, he tries to be as mature and politically correct as possible, though he can sometimes come off as pompous or pretentious. Vince doesn't seem to be in a good place. He's a drug dealer, he lacks tact, he has a violent temper and his long-term girlfriend recently left him.

Jon stops by Vince's room just hoping to go get some dinner with him, but Vince keeps them in the room by saying that he's waiting for a call. They catch up on each other's lives, drink some beer, smoke some weed... And eventually their talk takes a turn toward events that occurred during their senior year, things that Vince is still hung up on, a time that he might think is the point where his life first went wrong.

Vince had a girlfriend in high school named Amy. They had a serious first love relationship, but never had sex. After they broke up, Amy went out with Jon. It was over quickly between them, but Vince knows that Amy and Jon had sex and this is something that has never made sense to him. Things get very dark as questions are asked, accusations made, confessions given... And then Vince reveals the titular tape, on which he has recorded this conversation.

Jon and Vince are played by Robert Sean Leonard and Linklater regular Ethan Hawke, both of whom deliver great performances, carrying the film with their interaction. As the film nears its final third, the girl in the middle is invited to the room and Amy herself shows up, played by Uma Thurman. She's a complex character and brings a different perspective to things, calling into question whether or not Jon and Vince even know what they're talking about at all. Thurman does a fantastic job.

I find this movie to be fascinating, the script is great and it's amazing to me how Belber was able to write a continuous, feature length conversation that flows so well and is intriguing throughout. I like writing dialogue heavy scripts myself, but if I could write something like this, three people in one room, a conversation that perfectly sustains an entire film, I would've already made a movie of my own that way. Beyond all that, the movie is a very interesting look at how youthful transgressions can deeply resonate through your life for many years to come.

The picture quality isn't all that great, it was shot on digital video before HD was widely available and things have come a long way since then, but it's well shot and the writing, story content, and performances overcome any technical limitations.

Richard Linklater has been one of my favorite filmmakers since I first discovered Dazed and Confused in 1994, and Tape is a good example of why I admire him so much. He really has what I would consider the ideal film career, being able to make movies within the studio system while also doing smaller, experimental projects like this on the side.

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