“Geek USA” Is A Period Piece Window To The Mid 90s
By Scott Kurland
Film: Geek USA
Starring: C.B. Mullen, Greg Berney, Joanna Sotomura, Casey Fitzgerald, Taylor Calmus, Mollie Pratt, and David Alan Graf
Director: Brandon Walz
I don’t know why, but a lot of people think filmmakers/actors and critics are sworn enemies. I assure that is not the case. Critics don’t want to be the sworn enemies of anyone...maybe Uwe Boll, but that's it, only him. We just like watching and writing about movies. Also eating popcorn all day is an added perk. If you really want to know the truth, critics are more like allies of filmmakers. Roger Ebert and pulp director Russ Myer wrote “Beyond the Valley Of The Dolls” together. Ebert also helped Werner Herzog become mainstream in America. Siskel & Ebert were Martin Scorsese's biggest supporters and also they helped him by reviewing him harshly when need be. Honestly, secretly film critics root for filmmakers because we want to be just like them. Hence why Ebert formed so many alliances.
I am lucky enough to now be a member of this coalition. This week’s film, “Geek USA” is directed by newcomer Brandon Walz, shot by Nick Novotny, with whom I was in film school with, and stars my good friend C.B. Mullen as the lead character. Because I know Mr. Mullen and Mr. Novotny, I can’t give this film a review rating. I can review it and from that you can make the decision to purchase, rent, or download this film. Let’s see what I thought shall we? This is “Geek U.S.A”.
Taking place in the spring of 1997, “Geek U.S.A” is the story of Phil (C.B. Mullen), a high school senior who has just experienced the worst night of his life, PROM. Phil recounts the entire ordeal starting with becoming his school’s most eligible bachelor after winning the local “Battle Of The Bands”. Phil, accompanied by his two best friends Ace and Mike, (Taylor Calmus and Greg Berney) dive into the new social scene that has opened up for them. However, Phil’s life gets a bit chaotic when he catches the eye of three of the most beautiful girls in school. First there’s Sabrina (Mollie Pratt), the high school drama queen. Then there’s the adorkable Brandy (Casey Fitzgerald), editor of the school newspaper and diehard fan of Phil’s band “Made to Fade”. Finally, there’s Kyra (Joanna Sotomura), the girl of Phil’s dreams. Kyra is who Phil wants to be with, but some glitches may prevent them from being together. Will he ever get a happy ending or is he stuck in “Geek USA”?
“Geek USA” is director Brandon Walz’ debut feature. Normally, most young filmmakers want to hit the ground running and make the next “Boys Don’t Cry” or “Drugstore Cowboy”. Instead, Walz plays it smart and makes a nostalgia piece. Walz takes a page from the Patrick Read Johnson play book and makes it a memorable coming-of-age tale like “Angus”. He even has cameos from Charlie Talbot who played “Angus” and Michael Bower who played Donkey Lips on “Salute Your Shorts”. This is a quirky, charming film and Walz fills it with smart obscure dialog that is of the 90s time period. At one point, one of the characters says, “Who sucked out the feeling?” To which someone responds with “Superdrag”. If you know 90s punk music, you know Superdrag sang ‘who sucked out the feeling’. There’s references to “Angus”, “Scream”, and “Are You Afraid Of The Dark?” along with many other 90s tidbits.
I have known the lead actor C.B. Mullen for almost a decade now. My friendship with him has alway been based on honesty. “Hey C.B. how was my stand-up set?” ‘It didn’t suck.’ “Hey Scott, did you like the play.” ‘C.B. you were good it in, the play not so much.’With C.B., if he gives a bad performance, he knows I will tell him; honestly and directly. I’m happy to let you know, dear reader, that Mr. Mullen gives a great performance. Phil is thoughtful, socially awkward, and at times he bottles in his emotions. Mullen finds a way to delicately balance this character so that you are always rooting for him to win. At times he seems like he’ll fail, but that leads to a more rounded character. Mullen carries this film and does it with class.
“Geek USA” could have fallen into cliche territory, like Phil and his buds have a falling out, or their rival band beats Phil up for being better than they are. Luckily, “Geek USA” doesn’t do that. What we get instead are strong supporting characters. Calmus and Berney are you classic 90's best friend, however Walz writes them with a twist. In 90's films, the best friends are these joke machines who spout out pearls of wisdom between punchlines. Calmus and Berney don’t play it that way. Calmus’ Ace is awkward and he stays awkward which is good. He doesn’t become Ducky from “Pretty in Pink,” rather, he stays weird and for that the film keeps its heart. Berney is the same. Mike is a horn dog who stays a horn dog, and how is he rewarded? With a plethora of ladies for his choosing. Once again, not learning a lesson or getting in trouble makes us like him even more.
“Geek USA” gives us something else that I found refreshing. The three types of girls you fall in love with in high school fall for Phil. My favorite was Casey Fitzgerald as the beautiful geek Brandy. This was the girl I dated in high school; you know, super smart, very sweet, but planned everything without consulting you. Fitzgerald has a scene right out of your high school past. I won’t give it away but when you see the movie you’ll know the one of which I’m speaking. In said scene, Fitzgerald has so much internalizing that the end result of her performance will break your heart. That leads us to Sotomura’s Kyra. We all knew Kyra in high school and we all wanted to date her. She was the kind girl who loved indie bands and didn’t truly know how gorgeous she was. We all have a Kyra, and Sotomura is terrific. She and we understand why she is Phil’s dream girl.
If Kyra is Phil’s dream girl, then Sabrina played by Mollie Pratt is his....well I don’t want to say a nightmare, but I’ll go with lucid dream. Pratt might be my favorite performance of the film. When we first meet Pratt’s Sabrina she is so quiet and cute, but then as the film progresses we get to see Pratt take the role in a different direction. We all know a Sabrina; star of the theatre department, relates a little too well with Lady MacBeth. All three actresses really deliver different performances that scream for us to remember the girls we had crushes on in high school. It's writing and characters like this that make “Geek USA” a nice slice of nostalgia pie.
Having grown up in the 90's I really appreciate all the nods Walz and his team made to that wonderful time period. I will say that films like “Geek USA” and “Dope” made me realize that movies made now that are set in the 90's are period pieces. Besides feeling really old, I also am grateful that young filmmakers are recognizing the time for which they grew up in. “Geek USA” isn’t “Jurassic World” or “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It doesn’t have a big budget, but it has heart and looks fantastic. Director of Photography Nick Novotny really makes this film look gorgeous and leap off screen. No one truly knows what an unsung hero the DP is until you have to make a low budget film, and then you realize he made my movie look like “Say Anything...” when we had a “Blair Witch” budget.
It hasn’t been released, but “Geek USA” has already won awards on the festival circuit including “Best Feature Film” at the Los Angles Arthouse Film Festival. Trust me when I say that is a big deal. “Geek USA” will be on pre-sale in August, and I implore you to check it out. Smaller films like this one show us that good films with original ideas still exist. This is a cute little film that I hope achieves a cult following...but not like “The Room.” Do yourself a favor and see “Geek USA”, it’ll help you remember a simpler time...1997.
OFF THE RECORD REVIEW RATING*: B+
* Note: to not show bias once again this rating is off the record...but it is still a B+ and that’s pretty damn good.