Saturday, January 26, 2019

Slamdance 2019: 'Lost Holiday' (2019) Movie Review

All kinds of wacky shenanigans and general mayhem happen over the holidays as old friends, now scattered to winds, return to their former homes, see faces they haven’t seen in years, revisit old haunts and wounds, and take stock of their lives. In the case of Michael Kerry Matthews and Thomas Matthews’ microbudget mumblecore noir, LostHoliday, this set up includes becoming amateur detectives and trying to solve a kidnapping.

Home for Christmas and New Year’s, hipster pals Margaret (Kate Lyn Sheil, You’re Next) and Henry (co-writer and director Thomas Matthews) wallow in misery as they watch their friends move forward, start families, and basically be better at life. At least until, after a night of drug-fueled tomfoolery and hook ups, they find themselves hot on the trail of a mystery they believe only they can solve. What begins as an existential buddy comedy morphs into an indie thriller where they make use of their extensive knowledge of what cops do in movies and TV to crack the case.

Lost Holiday presents a quirky twist on the formula, filtering the angsty, mumblecore playbook through a detective story filter. Shot on 16mm, the film has a heavily improvised feel, the locations all have a lived-in sensation—I’m willing to bet they’re the real-life homes of the filmmakers’ friends, family members, and extras—and the whole thing gives off a sparse Dogme ’95 vibe, like it’s an American cousin.

In a big picture sense, the mystery is beside the point. It’s not about solving the case and saving the day, it provides a drive and focus Margaret doesn’t otherwise have. Seeing her friends grow and evolve, especially her ex (The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper), sends her into a self-numbing downward spiral. While other people progress, she remains stuck in place, clinging to her series of ironic lifestyle choices, like having a flip phone, using a Discman, and doing VHS aerobics workouts.

Where Lost Holiday is most successful is in capturing the aimless ennui of a certain age. We’re used to teenage coming-of-age stories, but this is essentially the next step. Now in their 30s but continuing to fuck around like they’re in their 20s, it’s about aging and still not having any defined direction. Kate Lyn Sheil’s fantastic performance embodies this. Pretending not to give a damn on the outside, while melting down and freaking out internally, she grabs onto the mystery with both hands and clutches it for dear life like a life vest.

Henry is in the same boat, drifting, wandering, purposeless, but while Matthews provides entertainment, he lacks Maggie’s depth. He’s the wacky, wise-cracking sidekick with constant bedhead, an eternal smirk, and no real grasp of the stakes. When the gravity of the situation truly dawns on them, when they realize there are actual life-and-death consequences to doing things like crossing angry Russian drug dealers and actual bad guys, it takes them by surprise. Up to a certain point, they play detective, relying on a sense of unreality and entitlement, until the game turns very real.

Even at a lean 75-minutes, the loose narrative runs its course and meanders around a bit—this partially feels intentional, to mirror the rudderless protagonists, but it also impacts the pace. Based on your tolerance for character quirks and eccentric foibles, your mileage on Lost Holiday may vary—it’s easy to imagine Margaret and Henry annoying the crap out of some viewers, though others will surely find the shoestring, meditative indie noir endearing. [Grade: B]

Check out the rest of our Slamdance 2019 coverage here.

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