"Who are these people?" is what I repeatedly asked myself when perusing the press release pages of accolades bestowed on the British thriller, Diary of a Bad Lad.
Chris Bernard called it “Absolutely superb…and completely inspiring” across the top of the promotional materials. Who is Chris Bernard? Good question, since the press packet did not attribute his name to anything. According to “the Google,” he's either a model from Lexington, Kentucky, a married software designer from Chicago, the author of Drop Shipping Sucks, or the founder of the Las Vegas Institute of Noetic Sciences Chapter.
And as insightful as any of those Chris Bernards may be about film, I am not sure how much I trust their and value their opinions. Perhaps it's time to rethink my credentials as a paid film critic, but color me bored. I just could not enter the groove that Diary of a Bad Lad was trying to create.
It unfurls as yet another 'found footage' pic, supposedly spliced together from more than 30 hours of "investigative footage". What I watched looked more like outtakes cobbled together from Guy Ritchie test reels.
The faux documentary format is often the blessing for the first-time filmmaker and the curse for the audience. To Bad Lad's credit, it was apparently completed a number of years ago, placing it pre-Cloverfield and Qurantine. But that does not excuse it from the sheer lack of narrative focus and complete slight of character development.
From what I am able to ascertain, Barry Lick (played by Jonathan Williams), a swarthy film professor, hires a gaggle of his students to help him film a drug deal that ultimately goes sour. Instead of high-tailing it out of Dodge, he claims that he wants to capture the gritty realism of the proceedings and demands they keep shooting — even as they dispose of a dead body and consume copious illegal substances themselves.
It's one thing to film an event as it unfolds; it's quite another when you yourself are committing said crime, implicating yourself in the process. It is exactly this little narrative nugget that kept me from investing my interest in any of the characters or events of Lad.
Then, there are artistic flourishes which completely remove the viewer from the documentary aesthetic it tries so hard to create. During more than one scene, the characters are seen snorting drugs and the director alters the film's soundtrack, which is supposed to emulate the character's high, but moves it completely out of the realm of documentary.
Then there is the dilemma of whacking through the thicket of accents, and I watch a lot of British TV and film. I am never one to protest reading subtitles, and I'll even take the time to look up cultural-specific witticisms, but Lad's amateur recording devices made it near impossible for the outsider to even decipher what was being said at times, much less extract any meaning from it.
Some scenes tended to go on forever, such as the amateur 'porn footage' that begins as amusingly playful, but drags on into tedium after five minutes or so.
It's commendable on a sheerly artistic level, thanks to director Michael Booth, but perhaps a little too impressed with itself, soaking in some of the bells and whistles of Apple's home filmmaking programs — a grainy filter here, a color drain there.
It does all this at the expense of character development. Too often, the film feels like outtakes from a film, with various seedy sorts mingling without purpose or direction. And while the actors involved are all first-timers, they fail to pull off the naturalism that is required for a film that is supposed to appear more real than a staged theatrical picture.
Director Booth has obviously paid attention in film class when they covered the chapter on visual effects, but must have dozed off during the lecture on character. This is one Diary that perhaps should have remained under lock and key.Powered by Sidelines