There are 125 films playing at the SXSW Film Festival which makes it very difficult to commit to a set schedule. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t fit Noel Wells’ directorial debut, MR. ROOSEVELT into my schedule, but then in a serendipitous act by the SXSW programming Gods, they added another screening at the last minute. However, I was scheduled to see another film at the same time. It was a real Sophie’s Choice. There’s been good buzz circling around about Mr. Roosevelt so while pondering over this Sophie’s Choice over a pair of breakfast tacos, my gut finally told me to watch the Wells’ film. I’m so happy that I followed by breakfast taco-filled gut.
Wells stars as Emily, a struggling comedian who moved to Los Angeles from Austin (the film parallels her real life). When she gets a call from her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) about some terrible news about the cat (the titular Mr. Roosevelt) they once shared, she immediately heads down south. While there, she meets with Eric and his over-achieving girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower), who Emily refers to as a Pinterest board personified. Emily immediately feels uncomfortable in this bizarre meeting, but things that more awkward when they insist that they stay at their house — the house that was once hers and Eric’s.
As things unfold, she learns that Eric has done away with his dreams of becoming of musician and has since pursued a career in real estate. Meanwhile, Celeste wants to get to know Emily more — but it feels like she is condescending and passive aggressive while doing so. She unintentionally insults her career, wardrobe, and life choices and Emily eventually loses it and finds solace in Jen (Daniella Pineda), a free-spirited drummer/waitress that is the epitome of Austin. Even so, lots of changed since Emily has left Austin and the more time she spends there, the more helpless she feels. But through all of the change, she looks to come to terms with everything — that is, if she doesn’t lose her mind first.
Whatever you do, don’t call Mr. Roosevelt quirky. Thrift shop dresses are quirky. Ironic coffee shop wall art is quirky. This comedy is not. What could have been an ordinary, boilerplate indie rom-com of the SXSW ilk, is a solid feature debut with lively personality and perspective from Wells. Known for her stint on Saturday Night Live and her role on the Netflix hit Master of None, Wells showcases her talent as a writer, director, and comedic lead with Mr. Roosevelt. It’s like she was waiting for the perfect moment to show us what she is capable of — and at SXSW was the perfect platform.
So far, the festival has been filled with good films, but Wells made a great one. Mr. Roosevelt is this year’s festival standout. Shot in 16mm, it’s a crowd-pleasing delight that will charm your pants and top off. Wells is a delight when she’s delivering the funny and earnest when serving up the drama. Accompanied by stellar performances by Thune, Lower, Pineda, and stoner scene-stealer Andre Hyland, the film will have you smiling from beginning to end with its uplifting tone of self-discovery, on-point jokes, and overwhelming love of Austin. Most of all, it’s a story that gives a funny, yet very real portrayal of coming face-to-face with the aftermath and emotional baggage left behind after a not-so-great break-up. Needless to say, Wells is off to a good start as a filmmaker. Her distinct voice and vision will leave the audience wondering what she will do next — which is always a sign of a good director.
Not yet rated
Running time: 90 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer
SXSW runs from March 10 through 19. For more of the Tracking Board’s coverage of SXSW, click here.