Sonoma Valley Film Festival:
The Big Empty
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.