If the nineties could be applauded for anything, it would be the great additions that it made to the world of independent cinema. Quentin Tarantino is obviously the big name that stands out from that era, but there were numerous small films that developed a form of rambling incoherence that attempted to capture youth culture in a very factual manner. Movies like Kids and Slacker seemed to take on a similar inspiration. Such films were made within the moment, but as the nineties came to a close the bohemian lifestyle was becoming less beloved. However, this form of experimentation hasn’t been completely left behind in the past. Director and star Mike Cuenca has created By the Wayside, a film which is described as "an observational comedy," but it is truly just an experiment in capturing youth on film. Similar to Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless or Richard Linklater’s earlier work, By the Wayside is a very rambling look at the lives of a select number of young people who spend their days and nights traveling the streets. Essentially, there is very little plot to be found in By the Wayside. The story follows Jim (Joey Halter), an actor who works as a professional extra, and his best friend/roommate Sam (Mike Cuenca), who is a documentary filmmaker. The film begins with these two friends going out on a trip into town with the sole intention of getting money for their rent, but after meeting up with some friends, this idea is quickly abandoned. What follows is a large assortment of conversations, sometimes philosophical and sometimes wholly immature. By the Wayside is a film that is all but free of narrative, but completely full of character.
The acting in By the Wayside is universally strong, but this is of course not "acting" in the traditional sense. Every line of dialogue has been improvised by the cast, so they find themselves in the process of having genuine conversations with one another. While these characters do inevitably develop small pockets of narrative, such as the group needing a ride or needing to come up with rent money, the overall intention is solely to document these young characters as they have some form of adventure within their life. While the movie doesn’t deliver on a grand or sweeping narrative growth within these characters, but they are introduced and built upon in a manner that allows the audience to get a firm grasp of who they are. Although appearances would tell you that this group of hipsters are going to lead the audience on a philosophical journey into obscure pop culture references and pseudo intellectual discussions, the movie is far less pretentious than that. Instead, it is very much a humorous journey into the lives of several very peculiar individuals.
Made as a true piece of experimental cinema, By the Wayside is far from conventional in any way. The plot goes nowhere, but there’s a great adventure that plays out during the course of the movie. While it does get sidetracked throughout, the movie remains addictive. Whether it is the outrageous situations that our main characters find themselves in, such as the scene where the group is invited to an apartment where they begin snorting cocaine with a crooner who looks like he would be at home in The Rat Pack, or the charisma of the leads, the movie has an undercurrent of fun flowing throughout. The jazzy soundtrack that plays over the modern setting, and the strange use of the film-scratch filter (for once not used in a exploitation film) is also a nice touch that gives the project a nostalgic feeling. What does that nostalgia inspire? It is not clear, but within By the Wayside there is a definite affinity for the bebop style of the 1960s. Whether intentional or not, the movie does show a sentiment for the past, and it is a definite part of its charm.
By the Wayside is not a classic piece of cinema. While similar in style to something like Shadows by John Cassavetes, By the Wayside doesn’t have a strong central theme. However, as an experiment, I find it to be quite rewarding and I would be open to seeing more films in a similar style. These filmmakers could likely do even more with a bit more pre-production or driving central narrative, but no matter what, the points that they wanted to make were certainly developed. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the films that I have mentioned above for comparative purposes. If you’d like to read more about the film, check out the official page at: http://www.blvdducinema.com/index/projects-2/by-the-wayside