Sometimes there’s a fine line between a formalist exercise and an aimless camera gimmick in low-budget cinema where financial constraints give rise to all sorts of “creativity.”
The Last Hurrah, a comedy from writer/director Jonathan Stokes, is filmed in one continuous shot. Obviously, this is not easy and requires a great deal of logistical planning. It’s also not unique. Since Alfred Hitchcock’s jury-rigged version of the idea in Rope, where his camera could only hold about 10 minutes worth of film, digital methods of filming have come along, leading to films like Timecode and Russian Ark that consist of a single shot.
Now I’m not saying that the idea is wholly without merit, but simply not cutting does not equal artistic genius or even “creativity.” In the hands of a capable director, the rigidity of the method could open the film up to something spontaneous or adventurous, but as a first-time moviemaking experiment, it provides for little more than a novelty.
In The Last Hurrah, the setting is a college graduation party, where three friends (Zack Bennett, David Wachs, Jon Weinberg) ruminate on life and love, intermingling with friends, acquaintances, and hangers-on at a Los Angeles house. The film strives for that oh-so-hip blend of high and low culture, with characters that wax eloquently about their philosophic theories one minute, then complain about not getting laid enough the next.
The over-educated caricature has its share of filmic potential, but these types of characters resisting transition in a postmodern world were immortalized in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming more than a decade ago. The Last Hurrah is centered more in one moment than that film, but there’s no escaping the fact that this effort is only a pale shadow of that far wittier film.
That only leaves the fact that it exists as a single shot — an achievement that seems much more valuable to the cast and crew than it does to the viewer. Charles Derosa’s ambling camera seems to just follow the characters along listlessly for the most part, rarely exhibiting any kind of visual panache that would elevate the film from the level of just a really long take. And if you want to be really picky, the film actually does contain a few edits, with opening credits appearing on black in the midst of the first moments of the film.
The Last Hurrah isn’t a total disaster as far as these types of films are concerned, and thankfully avoids the smugness that plagues a lot of low-budget independent cinema, but it’s hardly unique, and that feels like the adjective it’s striving for more than any other.
Special features on the DVD include a short blooper reel — one screw-up necessitating starting the film over — along with brief snippets of cast interviews and short clips of the tech rehearsal to get the blocking right. A filmmakers' commentary track is also present.