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Antiquities (2019)

30 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“There’s a feature-length film that could be made with the material in ‘Antiquities.’” –an excerpt from my review of Daniel Campbell’s short film “Antiquities,” April 2013.

Here’s another: “Writer-director Daniel Campbell is obviously so intelligent a filmmaker that he’s able to get laughs by just everyday quirkiness […] it’s funny, and it has something to say about the oddities of everyday life.”

Can I just rewrite that as my closing thoughts for Campbell’s recently released feature-length adaptation?

I loved the short. It was very funny in how eccentric it could make its characters, particularly the awkward lead (played wonderfully by Jason Thompson), which made the elevating genuine sweetness all the more moving and weirdly profound. It was about an odd person gaining enough self-confidence to begin a different direction in life, despite the sometimes-intentional/otherwise-benign efforts of his equally quirky co-workers (including one particular a-hole named Blundale, played by Roger Scott) at an antique mall to hold him back.

So, needless to say, I was more than curious to see what the same writer-director (Daniel Campbell) could do with a feature. For one thing, I was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t bring back the same eccentricities of the supporting characters from his short; for his feature, he introduces new eccentricities, by which maybe I shouldn’t be surprised (yet I am pleasantly surprised). Second thing is, whereas the short was about stepping outside of the image the protagonist was afflicted with, the feature is more about a modern-day everyman finding ways to relate to the eccentric people with whom he had acquainted himself. I had a feeling this would work, and it did. The feature version of “Antiquities,” of course given the same title as the short, is endearingly strange in the most identifiable way.

Having lost his father, a young man named Walt (Andrew J. West) moves back to his small Southern hometown to live with his cheerful aunt and uncle (Melanie Haynes and Jeff Bailey) and gain employment at the antique mall where his dad used to work. He’s a mild mannered kid who sincerely wants to step into his father’s shoes (both figuratively and literally; he wears his father’s old boots to work) and walk around and get acquainted with his old co-workers. In the process, he’ll learn more about his father, about the people he knew, about himself, and how people behave in the names of self-discovery and dealing with pain.

If you like indie “dramedies” with quirky supporting characters, you’ll get a kick out of the cast of eccentric folks here. Entire films could be made about the people who work at this antique mall, such as Blundale (Roger Scott, reprising his role from the original short, more or less), the sumbitch who, when he isn’t making his coworkers’ lives miserable, likes to stage Civil War battles to his own liking through dioramas; or Jimmy Lee (Graham Gordy, who co-wrote the screenplay with Campbell), the oddball whose booth resembles his childhood living room during Christmastime (and nothing in his booth is for sale); or Dolores Jr. (Michaela Watkins), the neurotic with self-image issues; or Dewey Ray (Troy Hogan), the general manager who is married to Blundale’s mother; or Delaney (Michael Gladis), a heavyset man who is more talk than action; or the shrink (Mary Steenburgen in two very funny scenes) whose parrot senses narcissism; or the obligatory Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Ellie (Ashley Greene), who behaves irrationally while also grieving the loss of her cherished brother. (An example of Ellie’s character: on a date with Walt, she sneaks them into a closed amusement park, tricks him onto a ride, and then turns it on while laughing maniacally… I can’t say I recall that happening to me, despite going out with quite a few loony ladies back in the day, but if it did, I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with her again.)

You get my point. But I will continue by saying that while I’m tired of seeing people like this in many recent indie flicks, it was this film that made me realize that I got tired of them because they didn’t feel like real people so much as writer’s constructs to maintain some type of identity. I could see people I knew in these characters; some of the time, I could even see myself in one or two of these characters. And that’s the key difference. You feel that these people are going through their own confusions in life, and while you may be initially be put off by some of them, you gain somewhat of an idea as to why they are the way they are. Even Ellie, who I was ready to brush off as too good to be true, became a more interesting character as the film progressed.

Oh, and Jason Thompson is in the feature too, although he doesn’t play the same role as in the short. I feel obligated to report that. (He plays Walt’s cousin.)

So, because the supporting cast is so memorably quirky, you’d think that Andrew J. West, as the Joe Blow protagonist, would seem bland by comparison. On the contrary. I think it’s because he was playing an everyman reacting to the oddness of these people that I kept chuckling at his facial expressions while also wondering what he might be thinking during those moments. (Or maybe it’s just that I would react the same way if I were in his shoes—er, “boots.”)

“Antiquities” is a delightfully observant comedy that taught me not to jump to any conclusions, whatever they might be. And if I may be even more honest here, just writing about those memorable characters made me want to see the film again. The film is available on demand (I rented it from Amazon Prime and I’ll probably purchase it in the near future); I highly recommend you check it out wherever you can, because “Antiquities” is a nice little treasure. It’s funny, and it has something to say about the oddities of everyday life.

(Wait, that sounded familiar…)

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