One of my favorite things about the programming team at SXSW is how they excel at curating the work of first-time directors. Katherine Emmer crafted her debut feature (which she wrote, co-produced, co-edited and also stars in) instead of waiting around to be discovered as an actress.
The semi-autobiographical tale titled “Life in Color” introduces us to Mary (played by Emmer), a down-on-her-luck nanny who gets fired from her job after she is caught smoking pot with a birthday clown named Homer (Josh McDermitt from “The Walking Dead”) behind the home of her employers.
Since Homer is in the middle of housesitting for a friend who is out of town for a month, he offers for her to crash with him. She rather begrudgingly accepts, only because she doesn’t have anywhere else to go. The intersection of their lives is at once a blessing and a curse. They’re both lost souls in many respects and, as the film goes on, they’re both revealed to have a fair amount of baggage.
The screenplay deserves a lot of credit for introducing some truly tragic material into the backstories of these characters and still retaining authenticity and a comedic edge. One of things I really liked was the notion that Homer was once exploring comedy as a career until developing crippling stage fright. With encouragement from Mary (albeit only so that he can potentially win a contest and pay her back for lost wages and find a new place to live), he decides to give stand-up another shot.
Both Emmer and McDermitt provide compelling performances with a relationship that is developed in a very non-traditional way. These are two people who are broken, but this allows them to bond while avoiding romantic cliches. Even when the movie inevitably starts to lean in that direction, it doesn’t go where you think it will.
Not every element of “Life In Color” works perfectly. Some of the scenes that rely on stand-up comedy, especially the contest sequence, just didn’t feel believable. A subplot involving Homer’s father being in assisted-living care also builds up to an anti-climatic scene that gives Jim O’Heir of “Parks And Recreation” fame nothing much to do but offer a forced emotional note. Those minor issues aside, this is an impressive first film that showcases a talented director (and star) on the rise.
“Life In Color” screens again at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Alamo South Lamar.