In his debut directorial effort, (although he had already co-written a previous horror movie, Aberration, in 1997) Scott Lew directs Bickford Schmeckler's Cool Ideas (2006), defined by himself as "a labor of love" that took almost a decade to bring to the screen. Presented at the SXSW Film Festival, the film's message is "about rediscovering what's most important in life, expressing yourself and having fun". In 2003, Scott Lew was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), which motivated him even more to direct his story, "dedicated to anyone who has ever had a dark night of the soul and figured out a way to come out smiling".
The nerdy protagonist is Bickford Schmeckler (Patrick Fugit, Almost Famous, White Oleander, Wristcutters: A Love Story) and he suffers from paranoia in addition to being a science fiend hidden by a typical college freshman façade. He's written down all the theories that have turned up in his intellectually suffocated mind in a notebook with a steel cover called, in the most generic way, The Book. His geeky existence, slurping lollipops and wearing ironic t-shirts, is occasionally interrupted by college parties, where everyone has great time drinking, smoking pot, and flirting with girls, except him. He's always absorbed in his studies of a new revolutionary cosmic theory about unifiying chaos and find a meaning in everything, although sometimes his confusing thoughts go something like this: "Nothing can ever be truly, fully understood, not even the most simple idea. Not even this."
As crazy as his ideas on paper can seem to the other students, Bickford's nature is undeniably stubborn and persevering and he doesn't mind the stares of incredulity that greet him. In fact, almost every secondary character in the story holds an ambiguous attitude towards Bickford's eccentricity; there admiration mixed with perplexity, due to the recent popularity of quantum mechanics.
Of course, the film doesn't rely so heavily on the discipline of physics, but there are a few hints in the script that will offer more fun to the quantum theory enthusiasts. And not only physics — we will find traces of Marshall McLuhan's manifesto: a postmodern man will exist in a multi-sensory state, previously fragmented with the advent of the phonetic alphabet. Also this weird story will make more sense to those viewers who feel some affinity for geeks or social misfits. The beautiful and colourful cinematography by Lowell Peterson helps us to feel sympathetic toward the characters.
One of the main elements that make this indie comedy work is the constant sexual tension between Bickford and Sarah Witt (Olivia Wilde, The Girl Next Door, Conversations with Other Women, Alpha Dog) derived from their initial incompatibility. She is a wild sex-addict, a pot-smoking sorority girl who isn't afraid of Bickford's sharp personality and she becomes progressively more attracted to him after stealing his beloved book from his room, ignoring the warning "All you dare enter here be damned".
Sarah uses The Book as her personal source of inspiration and she starts a new life as an experimental painter, losing her interest in promiscuity, and jealous of this new stimulation, her buddy Trent (Reid Scott) throws Bickford's book into a garbage can in the presence of an angry Bickford who thinks it's the end of his self-controlled world.
Resentful of Sarah and prey to his own mental anguish, Bickford establishes a peculiar friendship with a demented homeless guy named Spaceman (Matthew Lillard), who believes in inter-dimensional beings and temporal loops, while Bickford's best friend Ralph (Fran Kranz) comes out of the closet and declares himself gay.
Bob (John Cho, Solaris, American Dreamz, The Air I Breathe) and Sam (Mageina Tovah, Failure to Launch, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3) are members of a "Dungeons and Dragons" group and they work in a comic store, the Golden Apple. When they find the book in the trash, they discover the "braingasms" (mental orgasms) produced by reading it and feel so enlightened they create "The Reality Isn't Club" and make copies of the book to sell on campus. There is a curious connection between comic superheroes and the geeks, because the circus sideshow was the source of the word "geek", and the superheroes as Superman or Spider-Man used amazing acrobatics.
A bitter Bickford takes his anger out on the college administration until Sarah recovers the book and gives it back to him. Ralph is living happily now, and advises Bickford to pursue his own happiness, saying, "There is no need to be so intense about everything". It's obvious at this point that Bickford has suffered some type of childhood trauma that makes him feel threatened by the idea of happiness.
Professor Adams (Cheryl Hines, Along Came Polly, Our Very Own, Waitress) shows up in the third act of the film as an opportunistic sycophant who offers Bickford a deal for a commercial release of his book. But Bickford sticks to his guns and rejects the offer because he has already found new meaning which cannot even be deciphered from the pages of his unfinished book.
The film comes to a touching conclusion as Bickford explains his refusal to publish the book, reconciles with the D&D group at the Golden Apple, and enjoys a happy romantic liaison with Sarah, for whom he writes an epic sex poem.