ACTUAL PEOPLE (2022)


Slamdance Film Festival 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Spicoli (Sean Penn in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) was the poster child for stoners in the 80’s. Julie (Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL) taught us the annoying Valley Girl speech patterns, some of which have ‘like’ stuck around. The Dude (Jeff Bridges in THE BIG LEBOWSKI) epitomized slackers, and Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman in THE GRADUATE) showed the messiness of post-graduation aimlessness. We can only hope that following in these era-defining cinematic footsteps was what writer-director-producer-star Kit Zauhar had in mind with her character of Riley – the prototype of a stereotypical whiny Millennial.

Riley is an Asian-American Philosophy major with only a couple of weeks left until graduation. She’s also rudderless, frightened by the demands of independence, and unaccepting of society’s structure and demands for adults. She was recently dumped by her boyfriend of three years, and is now aimless and unable to function and effectively finish the miniscule amount of schoolwork remaining in order to graduate. Riley seems only capable of whining, while she turns her attention (such that it is) to finding a new soul mate. Somehow this supersedes her need to complete college and move on with life.

The approach she takes is all about partying. Drugs, alcohol, sex, and cigarettes become part of her daily life. Friends come and go, and cringe-inducing conversations revolve around things like Boba tea, race relations, and vagina yogurt. Riley becomes obsessed, or at least misdirected, with emotions for one particular young man. She believes that their one-night stand combined with their sharing bi-racial backgrounds and a hometown of Philly equate to their destiny of togetherness. She’s blind to the obvious disconnect with his feelings.

What we have is Riley, an aimless protagonist who seeks answers, while paying no attention to the life lessons she’s receiving. Supporting work is provided by Scott Albrecht, Randall Palmer, Isabelle Barbier, and Tanya Morgan. The latter has one of the film’s best scenes as a therapist/counselor for Riley. The stress of senior year and the adulthood that immediately follows graduation is certainly a hefty burden and one that weighs on many students. Unfortunately, Riley offers us little to care about as viewers. By this stage in life, being without a partner should not be debilitating. She’s had four years to focus on what comes next, rather than who. We see Riley reading a Miranda July book, and it would be understandable if filmmaker Zauhar models her approach after the talented Ms. July, but the incessant whining and lack of backbone would probably not be found in a July project. Riley is tough to watch, especially when her crush describes their time together (in the film’s best line) as “special in the moment, not significant.” We hold high expectations for Ms. Zauhar’s future as an actor and filmmaker, and let’s hope she’s learned her lessons better than Riley.

**Slamdance Film Festival embodies its mantra: By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers. Though Slamdance has greatly evolved since the early years, its mission and organization remain the same. Slamdance serves new and emerging artists, filmmakers, and storytellers from around the world. Slamdance programmers gravitate towards films that embody the true spirit of DIY guerilla filmmaking.

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