By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
*This review was altered on March 4, 2011.
Herman Spooner's last name should be Slacker. He barely has a job, and as his 30th birthday approaches, he is still living at home with his folks and showing no signs of budging. This concerns his parents, who love Herman but are tired of supporting him. More important, they realize they are enabling a grown man's arrested development. So, the Spooners set the 30th anniversary of their son's birth as the deadline for Herman to leave the house.
As played by Tustin-raised Matthew Lillard (SLC Punk!, Scooby-Doo), the titular character in Santa Ana-raised Drake Doremus' Spooner is hard not to love. He possesses geeky charm, a sunny disposition and the inability to harm a housefly. So, despite his lies about seeking new digs and truths about lack of ambition, you can't help but root for Herman as he thwarts the efforts of his parents (veteran character actor Christopher McDonald and Aron Ralston's mom in 127 Hours, Kate Burton) to lock him out.
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And you are really in his corner as his boss (Boardwalk Empire's Shea Whigham) tries to end Herman's not-so-stellar car-salesman career. It is at the lot where everything changes with the arrival of pretty, young, stranded motorist Rose (Nora Zehetner, who was in San Clemente-raised filmmaker Rian Johnson's Brick and The Brothers Bloom). Herman falls hard for Rose and must grow up in a hurry if he wants to keep her. When she stands alongside Herman at the door for dinner with the folks, the dumbstruck dad mentions he and his wife had thought their son was gay.
Rose teaches the gangly Spooner to spoon—get it?—but despite her rosy exterior, Rose is also something of a lost soul. She's bound for the Philippines to teach English to schoolchildren and, hopefully, find herself. This leads to some frankly creepy efforts by Herman to keep her with him in the San Gabriel Valley. By that point, the audience knows he has a good heart; he's just not emotionally mature enough to know any better. Credit for maintaining audience support goes to Lillard, who delivers a believably natural performance, and Lindsay Stidham's smart script, which she developed with producer Jonathan Schwartz and Doremus, her writing partner since her American Film Institute (AFI) days. Extra kudos for the writers steering their little indie gem into an atypical payoff.
In his feature debut, Doremus has at his disposal interesting locations (including his real-life half brother's car lot and a real-life funky hotel in Monrovia), a near-picture-stealing cameo from Reno 911's Wendi McLendon-Covey, and pitch-perfect music from the bubbly soundtrack. Spooner, which debuted at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, is a strong first title for the young director, who also possesses a sunny disposition and was something of a slacker before finding himself in AFI's directing program (at the ripe young age of 19). Doremus went on to pick up the pace with Douchebag, which was selected as an entry in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, before picking up the emotional heft with Like Crazy, which won the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance this past January.
Having sprung from Orange County's youth-theater scene, Doremus began building with Spooner the company that would serve him well in later projects. Stidham co-wrote Douchebag, which co-starred Andrew Dickler and Ben York Jones. Corona del Mar's Jones, who ran the sound for childhood pal Doremus' theater productions, is an extra in Spooner, which was edited by Dickler. Jones went on to co-write Like Crazy, which, like Spooner and Douchebag, was produced by Schwartz.
While Spooner is not Doremus' best picture, it does demonstrate the promise that led the now-27-year-old to greater things in the movie business. See how it all began before he's too big to talk to us anymore.
This review appeared in print as "Local Boy Goes Love Crazy: Recently crowned Sundance king Drake Doremus’ early promise evident in Spooner."