Years after giving up on making it in the Chicago improv scene, 20-something Warren Cavanee is getting by working as a barista. He's seemingly complacent yet stuck adrift in his own melancholia, between the throes of his parents' divorce, carrying a torch for the love of his life Emma (Sarah Habel), and his own uncertainty of his future. It isn't until Emma walks back into his cafe one night does he feel inspired to regain the momentum to move forward with his life.
So goes the storyline for writer-director-star Alex Beh's debut feature film Warren, screening this weekend at San Juan Capistrano's West Coast Film Festival. The film has already generated buzz on the festival circuit, garnering praise and attention to Beh's performance and for those of co-stars John Heard and Jean Smart (who play Warren's parents), as well as for the film's story. Audience members will get a chance to engage with Beh at this weekend's screening for a Q&A discussion after the film, so don't miss out!
On paper, the plot seems too familiar to other contemporary films about modern millienial melancholia. But Beh doesn't present a conventional story arch, nor does he bring in a manic pixie dream girl or a forced romantic resolution to tie the film's conclusion. It examines a group of people dislocated from their dreams and struggling to fit in somewhere, or with someone. From Warren's confused former comedian to his father Jack's lost businessman, to Emma's desertion of art to take up an unfulfilling career in real estate.
Despite that dreariness, Beh set out to find the funny in the sad times, and there's a spirit to the film that seems uplifting without being schmaltzy, due in part to the energy of the characters, the scenic shots of Chicago, and the film's eclectic soundtrack. Yet what will garner Beh the most praise is his script, written in two days after a lengthy process of writing notes and culling ideas together, and much of the film is partly inspired by his own life growing up in Chicago and getting involved in improv himself. "There are some elements that are autobiographical and based on having spent time on the improv world [in Chicago] in my life growing up. Comedy has always been a big part of who I am," Beh tells the Weekly.
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As any Chicagoan raised on film, Beh loved the films of John Hughes, Bill Murray and the improv comedy troupe Second City. Beh's mother was a drama teacher, so he was exposed to theater and film from an early age. He'd go on to take part in Second City's writing program and landed roles in television shows and movies, while cutting his teeth in filmmaking himself. Warren is Beh's debut feature film, but his short films Coffees and Sugar both exemplify Beh's unique imagination and ability to write funny situational stories.
Warren, Beh says, lets comedy come out of true moments between the characters. There isn't the kind of comedy that pushes one-liners or snarky co-stars (although Warren's best friend Rob, played by Andrew Santino, acts as the free-spirited comic relief at times), but for each character, a new chapter of self-discovery has just begun.
Warren screens Saturday at one o'clock at Regency Theatre San Juan Capistrano. Q&A session with filmmaker follows the screening. For the full schedule of West Coast Film Festival, tickets, and visit their website at westcoastfilmfest.com. For more on the films of Alex Beh, visit his website at alexbeh.com. See you there!