Drake Doremus' 'Douchebag' at Sundance

OC stage prodigy-turned-filmmaker Drake Doremus brings his 'very personal' movie to Park City, Utah

THE RACQUET CLUB. PARK CITY, UTAH. FRIDAY, JAN. 22, 9:30 P.M.

Dressed in a suit he picked up the week before at a Los Angeles thrift shop, Drake Doremus nervously trudges over to a microphone stand illuminated by a single spotlight as the end credits finish rolling for the world-premiere screening of Douchebag at the Sundance Film Festival.

The 26-year-old filmmaker squints as he tries to make out the people filling nearly all 608 seats of the temporary cinema space. He asks Douchebag cast and crew members to join him up front for audience questions. Eight people who have worked on the quirky slacker dramedy off and on for two years—and who also managed to make it to Park City—surround their director. The remaining two crew members are back home.

John Gilhooley
John Gilhooley

Shoestring productions of personal stories such as that of Douchebag are exactly what Sundance co-founder Robert Redford was talking about at the previous day’s opening press conference, where he vowed the festival had returned to its roots of presenting groundbreaking new voices.

To that end, a new category called Next was added for 2010, reserved for indie films “stretching a low budget to create big art.” Doremus (pronounced dor-ee-muss) submitted Douchebag hoping that it would be chosen for Next. Instead, it is among 16 films singled out in the more prestigious U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Each movie in that Sundance category last year was bought for movie-theater distribution—the holy grail for American independent filmmakers. Douchebag is the only movie in that group this year without a single Hollywood name attached to it as a star, director or producer.

Doremus mentions to the crowd that while his feature debut, Spooner, was being shown at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival, a smaller and scrappier event that runs concurrently with Sundance in Park City, he snuck over to the Racquet Club to watch the then-unknown Precious.

“I dreamed that someday I’d have a film playing in this room,” he says, still amazed at what a short, strange trip it has been. He had no idea in January 2009 that his “very personal” picture—shot in 20 days with a minuscule budget, unknown lead actors and a tiny crew—would fulfill his dream a mere 12 months later.

   

THE WORLD WIDE WEB. PLANET EARTH. MONDAY, JAN. 25.
Following a weekend of Douchebag screenings at Sundance, the positive reviews pop up online. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman calls it “a bubblingly sharp and fresh and dark and winning comedy.” Erik Davis writes on Cinematical.com that “Douchebag is great in its delivery of awkward, relatable humor.”

“With the festival halfway over,” Sharon Waxman reports on TheWrap.com, “so far features titles like Douchebag, Buried (which sold to Lionsgate) and Blue Valentine have the most heat.”

As this story goes to press, Team Douchebag are being seriously courted by a small film distributor.

Shot in Santa Monica, Palm Springs and outside the home of Doremus’ dad, Rick, on the Newport Beach peninsula, Douchebag follows brothers Sam and Tom Nussbaum, played, respectively, by big-bearded Andrew Dickler and big teddy bear Ben York Jones, making their feature-film debuts. The Nussbaums are separated by age, personality and a mutual hatred for each other. But, for the sake of opinionated vegetarian Sam’s bubbly fiancée Steph (Marguerite Moureau), passive artist Tom agrees to come to Santa Monica for the impending nuptials.

Prodded at dinner with the couple to open up about his love life, Tom reveals he’s still carrying a torch for his fifth-grade girlfriend, Mary Barger (the actual name of Doremus’ fifth-grade girlfriend at Oakridge Private School in Orange). She must be found, it is resolved. Much Googling ensues, and it turns out there are Mary Bargers in Santa Monica, Palm Springs and San Diego.

Sam’s wedding day nears, and many errands must be run. So, naturally, he volunteers to help Tom find out which Mary Barger is his Mary Barger, who can then be the younger Nussbaum’s date to the wedding. This leads to a road trip in which the full scope of Sam’s douchebaggery and the brothers’ loathing of each other are exposed.

And yet, by the end credits, a real love story has emerged, and it’s not the one you expected.

   

DEPIETRO PERFORMANCE CENTER. SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA. THURSDAY, JAN. 14, 11 A.M.
Newspaper clippings cover bulletin boards in a hallway inside this brick building; several yellowing Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register articles follow the youth stage work of Doremus, beginning when he was very young up through his teens. He was obviously a genuine prodigy.

“Drake was always with me at the theater,” Cherie Kerr says as she sits in a conference room, flipping though snapshots of her son. “It was not forced on him. He loved it.”

Named after late jazz bassist Charlie DePietro and his singer wife Margaret, the DePietro includes offices where their daughter Kerr runs Kerr Public Relations and ExecuProv, a communications-skills training center for business people.

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