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The Sonoma Valley Film Festival:
The Big Empty

Sometimes, you go to a festival and end up finding a little piece of Hollywood. At Sonoma this year, it happened to me with a Lounge film called The Big Empty, directed by Peabody Award winner Steve Anderson.

Now, This isn't exactly a big budget epic, as it manages to maintain a certain amount of small movie charm, but when you have Jon Favreau, Kelsey Grammer, Sean Bean, Rachael Leigh Cook and Daryl Hannah, it does tend to get a little Hollywood. Not that it's a bad thing at all, it just pulls the film a bit out of the traditional festival fare. The script, on the other hand, is all the quirky fun that you'd expect from a film in Sonoma's Lounge.

Favreau plays John Person, a struggling LA actor up to his chubby little cheeks in debt. John is made an offer from the creepy guy with mob ties down the hall. He is also in heavy flirtation with his neighbor, Grace, played by Joey Lauren Adams. John agrees to go out to the desert town of Baker to deliver a suitcase to the Cowboy, played by Bean. There's no explanation as to what's in the suitcase; all he knows is that he's missed the Cowboy by the time he arrives, and he has to wait in the small motel for him to return.

Here we get to see the town, which reeks of Twin Peaks and Picket Fences' Rome, Wisconsin. It's a town filled with odd and perceptive people that the audience is tricked into believing are merely odd. Rachael Leigh Cook, looking as hot as a twenty dollar Rolex, is Ruthie, a young girl who can't get no beer and has to deal with her violent ex-beau, Randy (played by Adam Beach of Windtalkers). Her mother, played by Hannah, owns the local bar and dreams of selling it all and moving to Hawaii to open a crab shack. Ruthie and John develop a friendship that turns into more as the film runs on. It also turns out that the guy who sent John on the mission is murdered and the FBI has sent out Agent Banks (Kelsey Grammer), an agent with a lot of questions and a screenplay to pitch.

The story moves from one oddness to another until it arrives at the peak of weirdness with the final showdown that almost explains what was in the suitcase. Favreau plays the guy falling through the rabbit hole with a ton of snarky confusion, which actually helps the audience make a few tough leaps. The whole thing wraps up smartly, though the whole way you're left with a few questions.

Perhaps my favorite moments were the smaller parts for some of the more fun actors in Hollywood. Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) plays the weasely mob guy. Jon Gries does an excellent turn as Elron, the guy who runs the motel and plays the ukulele. They all combine to make the town of Baker into the type of town that people write fanfiction about years after the series is over.

The Big Empty came out on DVD on April 20th. It's easily worth a rent and if you are a fan of the strange small town films or just really like Jon Favreau, it's probably worth a buy.

Chris Garcia

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