New Blog Review of THE NEW TWENTY, by George Heymont

from MyCulturalLandscapeBlogspot
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Set in 2006 (back in the days when wealth, capitalism and prosperity seemed to have no limits), Chris Mason Johnson’s first feature film, The New Twenty, glows with intelligence, craft, fine direction, and the work of an exceptionally strong acting ensemble. It has a keen sense of its precarious moment in history, the generation it represents, and each character’s complex emotional handicaps and motivations. As Johnson explains in his director’s statement:

“The New Twenty is an ensemble drama about five friends nearing 30 who’ve remained close since college. Their extended family has outlived its usefulness. It’s time to move on. The characters in The New Twenty are ready to move on and grow up, even if they don’t know it yet. But leaving that first circle of friends is like leaving family — it’s not always easy. As it happens, their ironic and somewhat tortured self-involvement coincides with what we now see as a particularly ugly chapter in America’s financial markets history.

For quite a while our country has encouraged its best and brightest to go into banking and that hasn’t turned out so well, to say the least. A title at the head of the film — 2006 — locates this narrative in the very recent but very different past. In The New Twenty my characters struggle with life choices that feel empty or cynical, but they either don’t have the courage to make a change or don’t realize they need to. Perhaps, luckily for them (in their fictional future), the whole financial edifice comes tumbling down just a couple short years after the story ends.”

The key characters in Johnson’s drama include:

* Julie Kim (Nicole Bilderback), a beautiful and intelligent young investment banker who is all too aware that the reason she keeps getting promoted is because having a high-ranking Asian American looks good for her employer’s diversity profile.
* Andrew Hatch (Ryan Locke), Julie’s fiancé, a wannabe alpha dog. A database programmer totally lacking in management skills, Andrew is a cocky, manipulative jerk who plays squash with Julie’s brother, Tony.
* Ben (Colin Fickes), a gay slacker who desperately wants to be included in the group’s activities but is rightfully regarded by them as a total loser.
* Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), Julie’s gay brother who works in advertising and shares an apartment with her best friend from college.
* Felix (Thomas Sadoski), Tony’s roommate who has a serious drug problem and can never seem to manage a relationship with a woman. Felix likes to claim that “we all suffer from a touch of existential malaise courtesy of late capitalism.”
* Robert (Bill Sage), a middle-aged professor who becomes Tony’s boyfriend after they meet in the sauna at the gym. Robert is very shy, HIV positive, doesn’t like to talk much, and is definitely not looking for a relationship.
* Louie (Terry Serpico), an alpha dog venture capitalist who plays squash at the same health club frequented by Andrew and Tony. Louie is a homophobic asshole who wastes no time going after Andrew’s fiancée, Julie.

There were many moments in The New Twenty that made me think of 1983’s The Big Chill as a once closely-knit group starts to come apart at the seams. Perhaps most impressive is how Johnson deals with issues of fidelity and male bonding. This may be one of the first movies to deal sensitively with the challenges of consciously entering into a relationship in which one partner is negative and the other is HIV positive. Straight and gay sensitivities do not clash so much as coexist in this film. As Johnson explains:

“In The New Twenty I depict gay/straight friendships between young men that are free of the homosexual panic jokes and unrequited love conflicts that usually dominate the screen. The fact is, gay/straight friendships (minus the drama) are more and more common for young adults, especially the urban and educated. We may not have reached a “post-gay” moment yet (Prop 8, anyone?) but we’re getting there. The casual attitude toward gay/straight bonding for characters like those in The New Twenty might be summed up as: what’s the big deal?

And yet, despite my insistence on the easygoing nature of this mix, I knew homophobia had to play into my story since our brave new world does have its share of it. Something that runs so deep must leave a trace, but what kind of trace? The answer came in two ways: first through my antagonist, Louie (the older venture capitalist who helps young alpha male Andrew launch his new career and who is blatantly if amusingly homophobic); the second through the more subtle dscomfort my male characters express without necessarily knowing it, through humor. In other words, homosexual panic used to lead to violence. Now it leads to jokes.”

The New Twenty took me by surprise with its strength, maturity, and honesty. Like Chéri, it captures a critical moment within a particular subset of society just before everything falls apart. It’s one of the few ensemble films I’ve seen in which the Gaysian male is the most level-headed character, the one most willing to take responsibility for his actions.

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More Awards and Congratulations!

And a somewhat belated congratulations to our own Karen Olivo, who just won the Best Featured Actress Tony Award for playing “Anita” in WEST SIDE STORY on Broadway. Karen plays “Bethany” in THE NEW TWENTY and is terrific in the film. She has several short scenes, the best of which is a moment she shares with the late Andrew Wei Lin, in the third act. There’s a bit of improvisation here between Karen and Andrew, and it is funny and natural.

New Awards for The New Twenty

Congratulations to Colin Fickes who just won the Best Actor Award at the Calgary International Diversity Festival in Canada.

And contratulations to Ishmael Chawla and Chris Mason Johnson, who just won the Best Screenplay Award at FilmOut San Diego.

Greg Hernandez from Greg In Hollywood recommends

Greg Hernandez, who first saw THE NEW TWENTY at Outfest and championed it then, is doing it again! Here’s the full piece from GregInHollywood.com

Chris Mason Johnson had less than $1 million to make his movie The New Twenty and just 24 days to shoot it. The writer-director needed good, highly-skilled actors who were not going to be too expensive to hire. He wisely used a casting director who found a first-rate ensemble that includes 2009 Tony nominees Karen Olivio (West Side Story) and Thomas Sadoski (Reasons to be Pretty).

“In the end, what really makes or breaks an independent film is the acting,” Johnson told me recently. “If there’s one false note in a performance in a low-budget film, it’s just not gonna work.”

This cast has no weak links that is for sure. It also includes Ryan Locke, Bill Sage, Terry Serpico, Nicole Bilderback, Colin Fickes, Andrew Wei Lin, and Thomas Sadoski .

I like this movie a lot. It kind of reminds me of The Big Chill. Five best friends in their late 20’s discover new truths about themselves and the friendships they thought would last forever. Two of the guys in the group are gay, two are straight and the woman is straight.

So you may be wondering if it’s a gay movie or a straight movie.

“Gay audiences say it is a gay film, straight audiences say it’s not,” Chris said. “I was really interested in these buddy films like American Graffitti and Diner where you have this group of guys and 100 percent of the time, all the guys are straights and 100 percent of the time, if there’s a gay guy in the movie, it’s gonna lead to unrequited love, homophobia etc. So the idea that gay and straight young male friends can get along as friends without that issue coming up is not something movies have addressed – in America at least.”

Chris had a decade-long career as a dancer before attending college so once he got there, he found himself about 10 years older than most of his peers. He also noticed that there was an ease between straight and gay students that had not been there when he was growing up.

“It was based on my own experience because I came out of a very gay world in the dance world where we were sort of segregated by gay-straight,” he said. “This was new to me and their attitudes about their sort of integration was new to me. As the old guard kind of recedes, this is the next wave. Assimilation for both racial and sexual issues I think is reality. The Republicans may be screaming but they can’t stop us.”

Chris and a co-writer Ishmael Chawla based the characters in Twenty on people they knew but they sought to make a movie that was strong on plot with “an active protagonist with external goals.” That protagonist is alpha male Andrew (Ryan Locke) who is extremely ambitious, has a fiance who is more successful than him, and he mixes his friendships with his business dealings.

“He’s the catalyst at the center of this and that allowed us to have some passive characters who don’t necessarily know what they want reacting to his actions,” Chris said.

The New Twenty opens tomorrow (May 15) at Laemmle’s Sunset 5. Chris is doing Q&A’s after the Friday, Saturday and Wednesday (May 20) 7:45pm shows. Go to TheNewTwenty.com to order tickets.

Performances “on the money” says LA TIMES’ Kevin Thomas

Below is Kevin Thomas’ LA Times complete capsule review of the film

——
YOUNG FRIENDS RISE TO CHALLENGES

Thirty is “The New Twenty” in Chris Mason Johnson’s engaging film that centers on a group of college friends who remain close as they make their way in Manhattan.

Nicole Bilderback’s Julie and Ryan Locke’s Andrew have just announced their engagement. Julie, the most successful of the group, presents a challenge to the ambitious and aggressive Andrew, who gets the crass, burly Louie (Terry Serpico) to back him in an undefined business venture.

Key in the couple’s circle are Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), Julie’s gay brother; Colin Fickes’ Ben, a hefty gay man having trouble finding a lover and a career, and Thomas Sadoski’s very bright Felix, who copes with what he calls “a touch of existential malaise courtesy of late capitalism” with escalating substance abuse.

The ensemble performances are on the money, and the members of this multiethnic, sexually diverse group are credibly comfortable with each other. Of course, homophobia still can surface, and Johnson deftly suggests that as these young people attempt to cope with the stresses of modern life they may outgrow the close ties of their college years.

Johnson provides them with plenty of challenges and reasons to question their values, priorities and goals.

— Kevin Thomas “The New Twenty.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

“An impressive feature debut” with “fine acting” says Boxoffice.com Review

“In addition to fine acting, The New Twenty benefits from David Tumblety’s excellent cinematography. He uses color to expressive advantage and turns routine skyline footage (not another shot of a rooftop water tower!) into a vibrant cityscape. Ballads and incidental music add another pleasant layer without taking attention away from the characters. Johnson and co-writer Ishmael Chawla (his fellow Amherst College grad, as is producer Aina Abiodun) shine in a concise barroom scene during which Ben drunkenly holds forth on the nature of human suffering to an older gentleman (Larry Pine in a superb cameo), who sympathizes before gallantly asking, “Now, would you like a blow job from an old cowboy?”

READ THE REVIEW

WOLFE VIDEO ROCKS!

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