With the constant flow of screeners coming in through the mail, I do at times judge a book by its cover and dread having to watch it. That was the case with "Joe Willie’s Friend." I initially planned on turning down the screener because I’m a firm believer that Rogue Cinema should stick to covering horror, science-fiction, fantasy, and cult films, but had I done so, I would’ve missed out on a fantastically made short film that packs an emotional punch. That’s right, I nearly turned down Wilson Bell’s mini-drama because of a minor case of "narrow-mindedness." Sorry Wilson!
"Joe Willie’s Friend" is about two friends named Darryl (played by Wilson Bell) and Michael (Oris Erhuero) who are on the outs. As children, both of these guys were great friends and their futures seemed bright. Years later however, things are drastically different. Michael refuses to speak to his former friend who inadvertently caused the death of Michael’s little cousin, Terrance (a.k.a. T.T.). In a flashback, Michael, just back from serving in the Army, visits Darryl, who is now a pothead loser. At first the conversation is friendly and the two reminisce about old times, but things suddenly go sour once Michael brings up his late cousin, T.T.
Michael puts Darryl in the hot-seat and soon poor Darryl breaks down and reveals the truth: He gave T.T. some drugs as a graduation present and apparently the drugs were laced with something a little extra, resulting in T.T.’s untimely death. With the cat out of the bag, Michael pulls out a gun and pistol-whips Darryl to the floor. Before he does something he might regret, Michael throws the gun down and tells Darryl to use it on himself, then storms out. Fast forward two years and Michael and his sister Yvette are discussing Darryl, who is now drug-free and looking to make amends for his mistakes.
By this short film’s final moments, Michael does indeed seem to forgive Darryl (who has to live with his mistake for the rest of his life) and things just may turn out all right. But what about Joe Willie, the enigmatic character mentioned in the film’s title? Well "Joe Willie" was Terrance’s older brother who had a major mental meltdown after his kid brother died. Now all Joe Willie does is wander the neighborhood in a zombie-like trance, permanently scarred by his little brother’s tragic death. At the very end of the film, Joe Willie is shambling down the street just as Darryl’s leaving Yvette’s house. Instead of turning his back and/or running away, Darryl walks up alongside Joe Willie as the camera fades to black, ending the film with a hopeful note.
"Joe Willie’s Friend" is an exceptionally well-acted short film and the honest and powerful performances by Oris Erhuero (Michael) and Wilson Bell (Darryl) will keep your eyes glued to the screen. With only a twenty-minute running time, things move at a brisk pace and the movie doesn’t drag out or become dull at all. While the movie is a little preachy at times, its guaranteed to satisfy anyone looking for a good drama with a strong script and great acting. While this type of film is definitely not my cup of tea, I have no qualms in giving it a very high recommendation. If this is what Wilson Bell and company can pull off with a meager $10,000, then I’d really like to see what he can accomplish with a higher budget. For more information on this film visit the WBJR Films Webpage.