Do you feature yourself a good judge of emerging talent? Want
to be able to say you knew them when? Chances are, one day you'll
be able to make that claim if you see "Origin Of Species"
- sort of like saving a rookie's baseball card and then hoping
he becomes a Hall-of-Famer. First, however, you'll have to find
this independent film playing somewhere. Recently screened at
the 1998 Myhelan Film Festival following its best film award
at the Houston Film Festival in April, if, when and where it
will be released for general consumption remains to be seen.
But if you do catch this promising first effort by director
Andres Heinz, don't let the title fool you. This is no long-awaited
dramatization of Charles Darwin's thesis on evolution. No Galapagos
Island location shots; no giant turtles; no missing link; not
even Tarzan. So, you won't have that unenviable task of deciding
which is better, the book or the movie.
If "Origin Of The Species" were in fact based on a non-fiction
work, a chapter from Gail Sheehy's "Passages" would be more
like it. Already touted in some indy film nooks as a "Big Chill"
for Generation-X'ers, its curious title refers to the lead character's
preoccupation with the theory of evolution.
Studious, incisive and forever dissecting both life's great
motivations as well as its minutiae (sometimes, with little
differentiation), philosophical Paul (Elon Gold) is of late
on a Darwin jag. The Martha Stewart of the gang, he leaves nothing
to chance, from meals to conversation topics. It's probably
what makes his best friends both love and hate him. And, let
it be known, there will be plenty of loving and hating this
weekend. For it is the 10th annual gathering of the six best
friends who comprise the young cast. The yearly site for the
much anticipated pilgrimage is Paul's mom's country house, which,
in a portentous bit of news for the college pals, has recently
gone to contract.
This group has baggage. If they were boarding a plane, they'd
be charged for the excess. While Paul may be trying to figure
out how feet metamorphosed from the webbed variety to an Air
Jordan 12 double-D, his wife Julia (Amanda Peet) is actually
in a position to begin knitting booties. But the newly impending
arrival has the former cheerleader type in an identity tither.
So much so that she has not yet told hubby about their own little
contribution to the evolutionary process. Oh, but she does tell
Fisher, the resident lady's man whose glamorous job as a voice-over
artist may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Later, when
Kate learns Julia is in a family way, she chides: "She doesn't
know if she wants to have a baby or be the baby." Ooh, catty.
Sexy Kate (Sybil Temchen), who is to "Origin Of The Species"
what JoBeth Williams was to "The Big Chill," is a trafficker
in attractiveness. That albatross stole she wears about her
shoulders is a rather dubious trophy which leads to an introduction
of Stan and how she done him wrong. You see, continuing casting
analogies, Stan (Jonathan LaPaglia) is the motion picture's
answer to William Hurt's sexually maimed soul. However, this
go-round he is a victim of cancer and a surgeon's scalpel rather
than some North Vietnamese shrapnel. When he was first diagnosed,
siren Kate gave him the gate.
Ah, but hope springs eternal. Laura (Jean Louisa Kelly), in
the last "Big Chill" comparison you will read here (promise),
is akin to the romantically awkward 5th wheel played by Mary
Kay Place. Sensitive Laura has a crush on Stan------ innocently
unfazed that he may be damaged goods.
Writer Robert Weston Ackerman, adapting from his Off-Broadway
play, tosses these ingredients into that dramatic cauldron known
as the confrontational weekend. Director Andres Heinz ambitiously
stirs. And the likable enough cast, most of whom have already
flirted with greatness (e.g.-- Miss Kelly was in "Uncle Buck";
Mr. LaPaglia had a part in "Deconstructing Harry"; and Amanda
Peet did a "Seinfeld"), manages a modicum of ensemble electricity.
What develops often has that derivative taste. Yet there are
moments, both touching and humorous, when the variation on a
theme creates its very own flavor.
But for this auditor, the real enjoyment of screening "Origin
Of The Species" involved the entire independent film experience.
At Myhelan, a nascent film festival held in a rustic stone and
frame firehouse perched atop Schooley's Mountain Road in picturesque
Long Valley, New Jersey, a group of obviously dedicated cineastes
gathered to sit on metal folding chairs and imbibe that culture
known as film. And whether or not any of the movie's young stars
ever get to sink body parts into wet concrete on Hollywood Boulevard,
"Origin Of The Species" proved a fitting start for an evolving
Of The Species," not rated, is a Nickoll Arcade Film directed
by Andres Heinz and stars Elon Gold, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael
Kelly, Jonathan LaPaglia, Amanda Peet and Sybil Temchen. Running
time: 95 minutes