Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Movie Review: Humble Pie

Rated: PG-13

Website: Official Humble Pie site

Starring: Hubbel Palmer, William Baldwin, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Vincent Caso, Bruce McGill

My Review: Humble Pie is the story of Tracy Orbison, a severely overweight guy who can’t seem to catch a break. He has a lame job as a clerk at the local supermarket, he still lives at home with his overcritical mother, he admittedly has no real friends, trying to pass his driver’s test is a never-ending quest, and he yearns to be a poet in a middle-of-nowhere town who has little need for poetry since it will never pay the bills. Tracy doesn’t necessarily long for greatness, but he knows he needs to get something more out of life.

His moment of revelation occurs when attending a local theater production starring Truman Hope—a “real” actor whose biggest credit is a three-episode stint on J.A.G.—who also teaches an acting class for the local wannabes. With his trusty notebook of poetry tucked in his pocket, Tracy starts attending the class, longing to filter his artistic side into a new creative outlet and to make Truman his mentor. He also becomes a mentor himself to his new teenage coworker and his group of ne’er-do-well friends, reveling in the feeling that he’s needed and is making a difference in someone’s life. But while everything seems good on the surface, there are inevitable complications that arise from putting too much faith in those who don’t deserve it.

Pulling double duty in Humble Pie is Hubbel Palmer, who both wrote the screenplay and stars as Tracy. He easily conveys everything Tracy is feeling with just a look and a handful of words; he lives in the quietest of desperations, mainly due to the fact that there’s no one in his life who cares enough to really hear him. This is most evident when he’s put in charge of training a new employee at the supermarket and is overjoyed to take the young man out to lunch and share all his wisdom and insights of the world, like how to properly pack groceries and his big artistic plans for the future. For the first time, he sees an opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life, which is just the first small step in making a positive impact on the world.

As local thespian Truman Hope, William Baldwin is an inspired casting choice as he manages to unironically portray an actor who is deluded enough to not see that he’s going nowhere. We don’t know if he’s a has-been or a never-was, but that certainly doesn’t bother him. His small classroom of local acting students hang on his every word, and when Tracy approaches him with awe and admiration, you can practically see his ego grow three more sizes. All he’s ever wanted in life is the ability to wow people by just being there, and if remaining the big fish in this incredibly small pond is the only way to do that, so be it.

Where Humble Pie falters is in its lack of direction during the third act. It sets everything up nicely with Tracy’s lousy job and his undesirable home life with his angry mother and weird sister. Then the inevitable downfall when everyone he thought he could trust betrays him is tragic to watch—especially one so-true-it-hurts moment when his boss tells Tracy that his big promotion isn’t quite the big deal he thinks it is. But the final payoff never really happens. Certain gears are set in motion and some resolutions are made, but for the most part it just feels like the last third of the movie fizzles out. We’re not left with a very clear picture of where Tracy is going from here, but a feeling that he’s learned some lessons and knows there’s still some work to be done to achieve his life’s happiness.

Bottom Line: As a first foray into screenwriting, Palmer does a commendable job. His main strength obviously lies in developing characters, as the performances are what stuck with me most after watching the movie. The structure of the story tends to falter in places, and it seems to have trouble deciding what genre it wants to fall into—it’s not uproarious enough to be a comedy, not serious enough to be a drama, and not bizarre enough to fall into the beloved “quirky indie romp” category. But the characters are well-drawn and well-cast, and their situations solidly established, which is more than can be said for a lot of big-budget Hollywood movies. Hopefully in his next project, Palmer will have a story as tight and well-planned as his personalities.

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