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With: Ari Kanamori, Jessiqa Pace, Jack McGee, Jena Hunt, Sean McGee, Daniel da Silva, Michale Phillis, Elisa Valentine, Daniel Bastreghi, Annie Scott Rogers, Jon Read, Rick Lasquete
Written by: Richard J. Bosner
Directed by: Richard J. Bosner
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 83
Date: 05/01/2012

Falling Uphill (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Steep Year

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What does San Francisco mean to artists? What is it about this city that has attracted so many different types of creators? I think the answer is that the city has a sense of freedom, acceptance, and belonging. This, in turn, is perhaps because it's such a schizophrenic city; it has so many different kinds of neighborhoods, of different shapes and colors and textures, all smashed together in a tiny, 49 square-mile space. For some, this phenomenon inspires dread (Vertigo, The Conversation, Zodiac, etc.) and for others, the intermingling of different worlds inspires hope.

The wonderful new independent film Falling Uphill is one of the hopeful ones.

Robert (Ari Kanamori) is a struggling painter, and pays his rent by working as a personal assistant to an older, published author Leo Glass (Jack McGee, from The Fighter and Moneyball). Disillusioned, Robert has lost hope of making anything happen with his art career, and so he has decided to move out of town. Part of his decision began a year earlier, when he advertised for a roommate and the pretty Jenny (Jena Hunt) turned up on his doorstep. Now they're best friends, but Robert is in love with her, and she has an upper-class, workaholic boyfriend (Sean McGee), who always seems to be around. To make matters more confusing, he and Jenny kiss at his goodbye party, leaving Robert in quite a state.

Now Robert is doubtfully putting all the finishing touches on his move, when he suddenly meets the peculiar and lovely Sara (Jessiqa Pace), who has a mysterious package to deliver to Leo. Robert instantly mistrusts her, but they wind up spending a strange, special day together when Leo can't be located at any of his usual haunts.

In an ordinary movie, Sara and Robert would fall in love, and that would solve all of their problems. But the world of Falling Uphill is a bit more complex, and that typical ploy -- refreshingly -- doesn't happen. (It recalls this summer's Pixar movie, Brave, in which the princess gets to choose not to marry a prince.) Instead, they each momentarily provide a kind of life force that the other desperately requires at this one specific time.

Writer and director Richard J. Bosner worked as a production assistant and/or production coordinator on a couple of Bay Area-related movies, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and La Mission (2009), as well as on -- ready for it -- "American Idol." (I knew that show must have been good for something.) He then wrote and directed two short films before embarking on this feature. It's a most assured debut, in tune with characters and moods rather than relying solely on plot turns and situations. This is not to suggest that it's shapeless, however. It still moves through its 83 minutes briskly and with and purpose.

It also has a real handle on those special little things that make San Francisco unique. For example, there's Jenny's job as a "princess" for children's birthday parties, the fact that Robert is a handsome, mixed-race mutt (part Japanese), and Sara's impressive thrift-store outfits (not to mention the fact that we see Robert's experiments with his hairstyles over the course of a year).

Bosner seems to know just where in the city to go for a certain ambiance, whether it's a coffee shop, bookstore, or a foggy view of the ocean, rather than simply planting his action in front of famous landmarks. He does stoop to using a couple of pop song/montage sequences, but these, too, serve to further or establish some kind of emotional connection, while at the same time, showcasing some wonderful (mostly) local music, including Thee Oh Sees. Aside from that, my only quibble would be one or two improbably geographical leaps across the city, though these are easily forgiven.

Falling Uphill is about a generation that perhaps feels more hopeless than any before it; it has at its disposal more raw information than any previous generation, but still the same lack of answers. In this, the Leo character seems key. Bosner understands that Leo is not just a silly, funny old man, but rather a man with a lifetime's worth of experience, and a person that can remember what it was like to be 25. In essence, this is a movie with an "old soul." It has discovered that the key to life is not necessarily raging against the lack of answers, but embracing the fact that nothing is knowable. The movie's powerful final scene is a testament to this.

With its brave dedication to emotional truth and appealingly damaged characters, Falling Uphill is a rarity that briefly reminded me of Andrew Haigh's Weekend, from last year. Like that movie, and unlike very many others, it's an accomplished, satisfying low-budget movie, and one that brings us all a little closer as human beings.

Note: The movie is just beginning its festival rounds and will hopefully have distribution in 2013. Be on the lookout for it.

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