The Family Johnson was once New York City's "coolest band", but sex, drugs, and rock and roll don't always mesh as well as you'd hope. A year and a half later, lead singer Bugs (Royce Peterson) is a broke addict with nothing but fond memories of his time in the spotlight. As part of his recovery program, he meets former bandmate Shelly (Wilder Selzer) at a diner to apologize for his sins.
The bulk of Aesop's Diner happens in the diner, with various flashbacks to headier days that play like footage from a poor man's Velvet Goldmine (1998). This gives cinematographer Eric Giovon a chance to shine. He composes a number of nice images over the course of the film and really gives Aesop's Diner a professional look that's often lacking in these types of films.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the script and direction, which lack a strong sense of purpose and focus. Tonally, the film is uneven, so while it works in short bits and spurts, there are equally long stretches in which it doesn't work at all. Most of these occur in the diner, where the film tends to drag, especially in the interactions between the musicians and the waitress (Mary Micari).
But, if Aesop's Diner is a first film for director Cara Maria O'Shea (as the festival selections seem to indicate), then this isn't so much of a problem, as there isn't anything here that isn't easily fixable with experience and an emphasis on viewing your own work with a more critical eye. These things come with time, as does the confidence required for a director to impose their will and make a series of strong, cohesive decisions.
One of the film's most interesting decisions is the casting decision of Wilder Selzer as Shelly, the still successful member of the group. Shelly's a big star now and rather full of himself, using inane pickup lines to flirt with the waitress (the film never bothers to explain why such a big star would flirt with a waitress so ordinary). Selzer's performance can kindly be described as existing in an entirely different universe than, well, everything else. It's all kinds of weird and the type of performance that's either brilliant or terrible with no chance of a middle ground. Problem is, Selzer isn't Johnny Depp. He isn't even Jon Heder. He's all kinds of bad. None of the performances are good, but Selzer's is easily the worst. There isn't the modicum of acting ability on display that you'd require to believe the character is a human being. In addition, Shelly is supposedly the "next singing sensation" but the film doesn't give us any indication that he's anything but an inept musician.
Of course, that doesn't mean he couldn't be a big star, but that's a discussion for another time.
Starring: Royce Peterson, Wilder Selzer, and Mary Micari
Cinematography by: Eric Giovon
Written by: Peter Kohl and Cara Maria O'Shea
Directed by: Cara Maria O'Shea
26 min/New York, NY
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