Casting Me… is a character-driven semi-biographical indie comedy romance inspired by Clerks. Instead of Kevin Smith, we have Quinton Lavery, whose real-life antics as a casting director have spilled over into film as we journey with the man on his quest to write and direct a film after hours and win back his sweetheart.
The film stars Paul Snodgrass, a South African comedian, actor and radio man, whose love for acting was rekindled when he landed the lead in Casting Me… Snodgrass studied drama at university and got into stand-up comedy to launch his acting career. It’s as though he didn’t skip a beat, carrying the film with an altogether charming, natural and quirky performance as the title character, Paul.
He’s supported by Roxanne Prentice in an equally committed performance as his ex-girlfriend. She’s his muse, the woman who has his heart and delivers as a mixture of Lindsay Lohan and the girl next door. The two have good on-screen chemistry and seem to have a real sense of history as their story unfolds amid an ensemble of quirky sideshow characters.
Raph Kossew is a wonderful find as the mischevious, crude and slightly creepy casting director, Rueben. Kossew has larger-than-life screen presence and almost warrants a spin-off film based on his character, who would be right at home on Saturday Night Live. Jonathan Hearns plays Paul’s under-the-gaydar roommate with a quiet verve, setting up a number of closet jokes.
Colin Moss knocks the production’s credibility up a notch with his cameo as the smug and lecherous casting talent. Then there’s Quinton’s cat, whose ping pong and toilet habits put the feline right up there with Uggie, the dog from The Artist, adding a sense of home with one or two funny moments along the way.
Casting Me… is shot in black and white, as a homage to Clerks, to add some indie muscle and as a budgetary constraint. The cinematography is well-composed, shot on two Canon 7Ds and looks leagues above it’s R30,000 price tag. The editing has also been a labour of love with a selection of contemporary South African rock music to amplify its suave indie appeal and a few required product placements.
Just like Oren Peli did in Paranormal Activity, Lavery has concocted most of the film from his own life, using the casting studio, props and his own apartment as the primary location for Casting Me…. It’s a wonder that they managed to get a 97 minute feature film out on such a tight budget and it’s an excellent example of what can be achieved with a low budget using guerilla film-making techniques.
The story is self-reflective and Lavery writes what he knows, giving Casting Me… a real sense of space and authenticity. It’s easy to identify with in terms of backing the underdog: the guy who’s trying to break out of his dead-end day job, overcoming writer’s block and trying to win his girl back. However, the film is constrained by its coarse language and crude sexuality.
Lavery’s script can be applauded for being bold, progressive and brave. He’s taken an honest chapter from his own life and ramped it up to make this feature film. You can appreciate him trying to establish a sense of realism, but it’s just gone over-the-top… way beyond The Big Lebowski’s f-bomb punctuation and Paul’s spoof of American film culture, to the point where it alienates itself.
This on-the-nose comedy cheapens what would have ordinarily been an indie gem. The dirty language draws too much attention to itself like a showcase for swear words and there’s an over-reliance on comedy involving racial and sexual slurs. It’s a black comedy, but the film’s puerile nature and barbed tongue just diminishes the overall experience.
It’s fantastic to see a film-maker branching out with such reckless freedom, especially in South Africa, and given the context this is a top-notch effort. However, Casting Me… is a niche film with self-destructive tendencies, pitting likable characters against a script that chastises and exploits them. Casting Me… is progressive, provocative, well-executed and mostly redeemed by a charming cast, but these feathers are plucked by it’s uncomfortable, prickly and alienating manner.
The bottom line: Progressive
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