Then Again (2012) – By Matthew Saliba

With eight short films under his belt, Indian filmmaker Ayan Pratap makes the leap to feature films with “Then Again,” a story about the all-too relatable feeling of restlessness those of an ambitious (or in this case, artistic) bent feel when they find themselves in claustrophobic circumstances that stifle their innate desire for bigger and better things.

Alex Carson (played with a remarkable sense of naturalism and restraint by Aleece Jones) is a waitress at Jo’s Family Diner in the small town of Cooper Flats. She has ambitions of becoming an artist and going to an Art school in Los Angeles or San Francisco in order to pursue her dream. However, several life factors are holding her back in the form of her recently out-of-work father whom she lives in and has to take care of and her boyfriend Ben who has small ambitions to match the small town they both live in.

Her life is changed one day when the town’s prodigal son, Chuck Crowley returns to donate some of his world famous photographs to the town’s annual arts festival. Needless to say, the prospect of meeting another artist in this wicked little town fascinates Alex to no end and the two strike up a relationship where among other things; Chuck introduces Alex to Tratak meditation, a technique he learned in India.

This relationship causes an irrevocable ripple in Alex’s life where she is forced to decide once and for all what she wants to do with her life.

As previously mentioned, “Then Again” is the debut feature of filmmaker Ayan Pratap and it shows.

First and foremost, the film has such a mawkish maudlin feel to the piece that even Steven Spielberg would weep. The script is riddled with such clichés that at some point I was wondering whether this film was meant to be a parody of Spielberg’s work and/or every afterschool special that has aired on ABC throughout the ‘80s. There’s one sequence when Alex is sitting with her father and is informed that he lost his job. She attempts to reassure him by telling him that she saved some money and they should be okay. He then turns to her and I kid you not, waits at least five whole seconds before saying with deadpan seriousness, “But that money was for school.”

I’m willing to forgive the beaten to death concept of a small-town girl with big-town dreams if a filmmaker is willing to give it a new spin, but when you have characters having fights where the thesis of the film is being bludgeoned to death with dialogue as subtle as Rick Santorum’s views on abortion, you can’t help but groan and wonder what was the filmmaker thinking.

Secondly, the acting for the most part is really bad. With the exception of Aleece Jones who plays the lead, virtually everyone in this film speaks in this stilted manner where they enunciate each and every word trying to hammer home the one-dimensionality of their cookie cutter characters. Now, being an actor/director myself, I can tell you from personal experience that an actor, by and large, is typically as good as the material he or she is given. Sometimes a performer is able to rise above subpar work, but if a filmmaker is insistent on wanting his or her talent to perform in such a way, an actor is ultimately a pawn in the director’s grand design and has to suffer the consequences. So with that said, I would like to say for the record that I’m not calling the actors in this film bad per se; I’d be curious to see some of their other work before judging. But as far as their performances in this film go, they’re pretty atrocious.

And finally we come to the issue of sound. Foley work and ADR can be tricky mountains to climb as you want to have clear and crisp sounding dialogue and sound effects, yet on the other hand, they must sound as if they were recorded on set to give the impression of naturalism. Unfortunately, the sound design in this film is pitched way too high resulting in dialogue and sound effects that are too loud in relation to where the characters are to the camera. It’s an amateur mistake that any discerning member of the audience will immediately pick up on.

The idea of Tratak meditation is an intriguing one and perhaps had the film centered on Alex traveling through India or even going on a retreat to some exotic location in the United States where she encounters Chuck, “Then Again” may have been a more interesting film. Instead we get a film ripe with all the clichés associated with the “small-town big dream” genre that could have made a wonderful (albeit unintentional) comedy had it been played up as such.

“Then Again” is currently hitting the film festival circuit and more information on the film and its maker can be found online at: http://www.thenagainthefilm.com