Food, Infidelity and Self-Deception: The Choices we make A review of “Growing Pains: Adolescent Short Films for Adults”

Click: “Growing Pains: Adolescent Short Films for Adults”

“Growing Pains: Adolescent Short Films for Adults” is a bill of four separate short films with a common theme of taking responsibility for life choices.

Short | 33 mins. | USA
Director: David Ruchman

In the small town of Sudbury, NY, Nicholas, a teenaged food critic aspires to put his obscure hometown on the fine-dining map by awakening the culinary tastes of the citizens in his self-published “Food Report.” Slow sales of his single page publication cause Nicholas to look for ways to boost interest in his surprising expertise with food taste and preparation.

When Jameson Gellar – a foul-mouthed, one-star master chef from New York City – mysteriously shows up in Sudbury, Nicholas is desperate to interview him. In a town with no food choices, we have to wonder: Why has the stellar chef come to ply his trade in such an obscure place?

When Nicholas dares to give Chef Gellar advice on how to improve his osso buco recipe, the Chef refuses to give Nicholas an interview for his Food Report and demands to know why a kid is so interested in food versus other teen-age activities. Many viewers will relate when Nicholas replies: “Every good memory I have is associated with food.”

Hard luck causes Chef G to lose his single-star rating and in despair, he wants to abandon his new Sudbury restaurant. His misfortune raises two questions: Will Nicholas help the culinary star return to New York stardom? Or on the flip side, will Gellar help Nicholas put Sudbury on the map?

“Acquired Taste” is a movie about hard-to-come-by adolescent self-confidence; the characters are well defined and believable. With first-rate acting, particularly by Brenda Thomas (Doris, the Café cook), the inner story reveals itself as the plot unfolds. When the lights come up, you’ll realize you’ve been educated and entertained.

Director David Ruchman will be in attendance for a Q& A after the Santa Fe screening of the Growing Pains slate of films.

In the second of the films in this bill, the tone turns serious in:

Short | 24 mins. | USA
Director: Robert Weiermair

Is bullying ever acceptable? Where does it come from? With a hot-button social issue such as bullying, it’s tempting to editorialize about violence begetting violence. However, that would tend to obscure the point of Director David Weiermair’s “Bully:” that the causes of violent intimidation are varied and deeply rooted. The film directs our attention away from adolescent growing pains and instead explores the idea that a household environment sows the seeds of vicious behavior.

When a video of the diabetic teenage Toby being brutalized by high school thugs shows up on the Internet, the victim and his parents are called before the principal. Toby tries to lie his way out of how serious the situation is; but Russ, his father, sees through the boy’s half truths: “We don’t lie to each other.”

Still, Toby isn’t the only one telling lies. Set within a subplot of infidelity, Russ shouts at his wife that he has a plan to teach Toby how to “man up” and fight for self-respect. “I want you to learn to hit those guys. But you gotta hit ’em hard. I want you to hit those guys. Okay? You feel it? Put your hands up. I’m coming atcha.”

After Toby fails at his first boxing lesson, he accidentally discovers his father’s extramarital affair. The movie viewer learns that Toby has indeed learned from his father’s example. Witnessing his father’s unfaithfulness, Toby yells at Russ: “Stop!” In two surprising plot twists, the film reveals what else Toby has internalized and the solutions he uses to stop the bullying.

The production values are high in this tale of falsehoods and distrust; the characters are as complicated as the plot. Disturbing images, excellent cinematography, inspired editing and a first rate script make this a professional production.

Short | 11 mins. | USA
Director: Anne Kaempfer

In “Slow and Steady,” Max, a 20-something, sensitive girl — finely portrayed by Betty Kaye — longs for Jean-Louis, her father, to notice her. The film uses a clever device in projecting Max’s internal desire onto Hannibal, a tortoise, whose progressively slow gait sets the film’s emotional tone. When Jean-Louis neglects his responsibility not only for his daughter, but Hannibal as well, it raises the question: Does neglect have consequences?

Written and Directed by Annie Kaempfer, and produced by Jean Pesce (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), “Slow and Steady” is entertaining and should garner well-deserved attention for Auriyana Jackson’s art direction and production design.

Short | 25 mins. | USA
Director: Aaron Wolf

In the program’s final offering, Michael Gross (“Family Ties,” “Tremors”) co-stars in an adult comedy that could be subtitled “Failure to Launch.”

Rejected by his girlfriend, Lance Wesley spends quite a lot of time pleasuring himself underneath the covers before a juvenile pin-up poster. Fantasizing over what might have been and hounded by his over-controlling Dad (Michael Gross) to get himself together, Lance’s fantasies come to life in the form of comedic life counseling from his boyhood Baseball Trophy and pin-up Poster Girl.

Trophy and Poster Girl (the Relics) team up to get Lance back on track: “You always wanted to be the man on the field, impress your dad, be the best one out there. Well, now you can.” And when Lance resists, the Relics call in Lance’s hilarious childhood baby doll for some obscene-mouthed support. Lance finally sees what his real problem is, and the movie makes a pretty cool turning point; the film’s target audience seems to shift from juvenile to a more mature group.

While Mark Gesner (Lance Wesley) should definitely get further acting jobs based on his “Guest House” work, Michael Gross (as the Dad) continues to show his range. “Guest House’s” dialogue could have been lackluster, but he manages to make it work in an very good piece of acting. Playing a comedic straight man in a few scenes, Gross shows his depth in a crisis midpoint scene in “Guest House,” where with body language only, he manages to communicate that he, too, is doing some soul searching and needs to redirect his anger at his son’s lack of action.

Michael Gross and Director Aaron Wolf will attend a Q & A session after the screening.

Whether it’s the career we pick (“Acquired Taste’) or the actions we take (“Bully,” “Slow and Steady,” “Guest House), the choices we make affect all those around us. The movies in this program may amplify Santa Fe’s ability to attract quality films to its festivals and A-list talent to future productions.