Independent cinema has always staked itself on the claim that what filmmakers lack in budget or polish they more than make up for with passion, dedication, and clear artistic voice. However, as the current glut of Web-fueled DIY-style features demonstrates, a lot of indie writers and directors now seem more concerned with running social media campaigns than actually saying something in their movies.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case for Mr. York Shackleton and his surprisingly affecting new film, Pretty Perfect. A deeply personal rumination on identity, purpose, and the overwhelming power of love, Shackleton’s passion project easily rises above its minor shortcomings to serve as a poignant reminder of what indie filmmaking, at its best, should be.
For talented but struggling LA artist, Conner (Christopher Beaton), nothing in life seems to have turned out quite the way he expected… His attractive, buttoned-up girlfriend, Whitney (Charity Shea) just doesn’t get his bohemian sensibilities; his once promising art career has now taken a backseat to a soul-sucking job as a draftsman at an architectural firm; and his best friend, Marc (Michael Bellisario), is a pill-popping dick. But things suddenly start to look up for Conner when he meets the magnetic if troubled Eden (Sarah Sutherland). An artist herself, prone to many of the same highs and lows as Conner, she instantly invigorates the flailing 20-something, serving not only as his muse, but as tangible proof that a better life exists out there, if only he can muster up the effort to go and get it.
True, this could be the plot of the latest lovesick YA novel turned blockbuster film series, and for a small portion of the movie, Shackleton certainly leads you to believe that it is. But the talented filmmaker (who cowrote the script with Beaton) is way too smart for that. Rather than simply exploring love as a means of achieving that oft-desired but nebulously outlined ‘true happiness’, he and Beaton are much more interested in examining how our affections can actually come to define us and the way in which we view the world around us.
And that’s not to say that Pretty Perfect scoffs at the idea of love as redemptive and reinvigorating. In fact, the film does quite the opposite, thanks in no small part to the great performances driving it. Beaton – in his first onscreen role – acquits himself nicely, especially considering how tricky the part is, but it’s Sutherland – most famous for playing Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ sullen daughter on Veep – who’s the film’s biggest revelation. Possessed of a fragile, delicate beauty that calls to mind Winona Ryder crossed with one of the Olsen Sisters, she’s an onscreen lass easily worth fighting for, but one whose quirky charm and irrepressible spirit indicate that if need be, she can more than hold her own. Otherwise, Bellisario adds some much needed comic relief to the mix.
Unexpectedly insightful, undeniably passionate, and overall quite satisfying, York Shackleton’s Pretty Perfect is a true example of indie filmmaking at its finest.
CLICK HERE to see the trailer for Pretty Perfect.