Going back home can be a time filled with a lot of mixed emotions. Whether it’s just for Thanksgiving dinner, or an extended stay in your parents’ basement, returning to your roots can sometimes be comforting, sometimes nostalgic and other times it’s just plain depressing.
Oconomowoc, the feature-length directorial debut from Lawrence University graduate Andy Gillies strives to portray all those emotions while adding plenty of offbeat humor. Gillies returns to LU this week to screen the film in his own homecoming of sorts.
The movie will also be available through many on-demand cable television and online streaming services beginning May 1st.
Oconomowoc tells the story of a twenty-something named Lonnie Washington (Brandon Marshall-Rashid) who moves back home despite having a bright future – including an impressive job offer, which he turned down.
At home, Lonnie finds his drunk mother (Deborah Clifton), an eccentric stepfather named Todd who is closer to Lonnie’s age (Andrew Rozanski), and Lonnie’s old best friend, Travis, played by Gillies.
Travis is trying to start a t-shirt business, but he’s getting some serious competition from a neighborhood kid who steals his ideas. Travis, Lonnie and Todd team up to get the business going and plot revenge against their 12-year-old enemy. Gillies says it is “a film about mishandled ideas.”
Watch the Trailer for Oconomowoc
Gillies calls director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) one of his influences. Oconomowoc has been compared to Anderson’s first feature-length film, Bottle Rocket.
One thing you’ll notice that’s missing from the trailer above, is any sign that this is a “Wisconsin comedy.” There are no accents, no deer hunting scenes, no beer-guzzling cheeseheads. That’s because Gillies didn’t want to make a stereotypical “Wisconsin comedy.” He wanted to tell a more universal story using the city of Oconomowoc as the backdrop.
“The film is not expressly about anyone or any one place,” Gillies tells WhooNEW. “I think having moved and traveled around a lot in early adulthood, I repeatedly encountered lives and places that shared striking similarities while at the same time hungering for individuality. This isn’t a new idea, by any means, but as a young adult I found this emotionally piercing and lasting – and to a large extent bizarrely humorous.”
While attending Lawrence University in Appleton, Gillies had a girlfriend who lived in Oconomowoc. He was staying in her parents’ house when he wrote the first draft of his film. The entire production was shot in Oconomowoc over just eight days, and the house where Gillies once stayed serves as a centerpiece of the movie.
The movie follows a young man who lacks direction as a he comes to a crossroads in his life. Gillies says his film also takes a look at the issue of self-importance, trying to figure out who you are and where you belong.
“This idea of ‘someplace’ has always made me laugh,” Gillies says in his director’s statement. “So I decided to write a dislocated comedy about dislocated identity and about how people, ideas and dreams shape what we seem to believe.”
It stands to reason that a movie about people searching for meaning and direction would have a plot that isn’t exactly concrete or formulaic. In other words – you might expect the story to wander a bit.
Yet reviews from some recognizable publications including the LA Times and Hollywood Reporter didn’t seem willing to accept that fact about Oconomowoc.
Gary Goldstein of the LA Times said the film “alternates between the pointless and the elliptical as the movie sputters out its nominal story.”
Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden said “a film about pointlessness doesn’t itself have to be pointless.”
Of course, there are many independent filmmakers who can only dream of having their projects reviewed by the mainstream media. Yet criticism is still hard to hear, especially when you’ve spent years of your life trying to bring a story to life. Gillies says this was part of his introduction to public film.
“Look, people are completely justified to tear into anything they want,” Gillies tells us. “This film is not for everyone, and in their defense, I have a lot to learn. If people take a liking or find a level of connectivity with the work, then that undeniably provides some form of resolve because we’re communicating, but even if you hate the project and feel that it doesn’t deserve life itself, well, then I guess – we are still communicating.”
Gillies will be able to communicate with a much wider audience thanks to a distribution deal his film acquired with Gravitas Ventures. Oconomowoc will be available on-demand through cable providers like Time Warner and Comcast as well as internet streaming services like Vudu, Amazon Video On Demand, iTunes, YouTube and the PlayStation Network.
The director will be back in Appleton on Thursday, May 2nd for a free screening at Lawrence University that follows debuts in both Los Angeles and New York. Those audiences did not get to see Oconomowoc for free. So you could consider this a gift from Gillies to the community where he went to college. Unlike the main character in his movie, Gillies says his return to a place he called home for a time will be full of positive emotions.
“I’m very much looking forward to sharing the project with the students. My time at Lawrence was life changing; I wish I could do it again,” Gillies says.
Also integral to the production of the film was Joe Haas, owner of Joe Haas Media in Oconomowoc. Haas was a producer on the film and served as the director of photography as well as an editor and composer. Oconomowoc has an original score composed by Andy Gillies, Joe Haas and Brandon Marshall-Rashid.
Gillies says he’s happy to have his first big project completed. Now it’s on to the the next one.
“The DIY process can be very drawn out and seemingly endless at times, so I’m almost psychotically pining to start work on another project,” Gillies says. “There are other projects in the works; mostly dislocated comedies – now I just have to find funding.”
- What: Free screening of Oconomowoc from director and LU alumn Andy Gillies
- Where: Lawrence University, Wriston Art Center
- When: May 2, 2013 at 9 pm. Q&A with director follows screening