What’s it take to make a movie? What’s it cost?
Connor Rickman did The Whole Lot by paring everything down to essentials – three characters, mostly long single takes, a few scenes. Absolutely nothing was wasted, no embellishments allowed. And five days, and just $15,000 later, he had a finished, professionally accomplished film.
Except there’s one thing he never had and it’s the cheapest thing of all: A satisfying story.
A heated family drama, The Whole Lot begins after the death of a Western patriarch. Estranged from his wife and, it seems, most of his family, he’s left everything to his adult daughter, Della. She calls a meeting at the old man’s Utah ranch to fill in her disinherited brother on the details, and offer him a consolation prize: One of their father’s expensive collectible cars, his choice.
The meeting doesn’t go well.
Her brother, Jamie, a burly, violent alcoholic. thinks he should get a lot more than what she’s offering. Her husband, Eli, a buttoned-down yuppie entrepreneur, thinks Della should offer him a lot less – and use her inheritance to fuel his own business dreams. And Della doesn’t know what she’s sure of, although she’s beginning to suspect neither man has her best interests at heart.
The Whole Lot has crisp, well-lit cinematography, full of sharp shadows and bright primary colors. The wintry Utah landscapes fit the characters’ mournful mood, and the performances range from acceptable (Blake Webb as the callow hubby) to good (Aaron Kramer as the bullying brother) to excellent (Sarah McLoney as the jittery, conflicted Della).
The characters aren’t necessarily people you want to spend much time with, even on screen – Jamie is particularly loutish. But the performers are engaged, and the conflicts are definitely strong.
But then the last third of the film goes off the rails,
The problem with spoiler-averse reviews is that, when the plot’s the problem, the critic can’t always make clear what their actual objection is. But suffice it to say, after providing drama for 45 minutes or so (the entire film, even with credits, only lasts about an hour-and-a-quarter) Matthew Ivan Bennett’s script lurches into mad melodrama.
Suddenly, there’s a loathsome revelation that isn’t just soap-opera extreme, but a mix of ugly abuse and abnormal psychology. The twist doesn’t so much deepen our understanding of the characters as make them nearly incomprehensible. And, by comparison, it makes what should be important plot points in the story – a looming bankruptcy, a dead baby – feel like trivial afterthoughts, and its ending seem like a pat, rushed wrap-up.
The director, cinematographer and stars all deserve enormous credit for their ability to turn out a fine-looking film under the strictest, and most straightened of circumstances. A five-day shoot? A $15,000 budget? You can’t waste a single second, or cent, as you rush to get it all shot and in the can.
Too bad they hadn’t spent just a little more time before the shoot, asking themselves if this was the story they really wanted, or needed, to tell.