Note: The following was written by Jane Sumner for the American-Statesman
Brian Jett premiered his first feature, “Let Go,” a quirky sad-funny ensemble drama, about a melancholy parole officer dealing with marital problems and three eccentric ex-cons, at the Austin Film Festival in 2011.
This year the writer-director returns with “Fallen Stars,” a sort of sad-sack romance that follows the developing relationship between a melancholy bartender and a bright but socially awkward young woman.
Cooper (Ryan O’Nan) has been serving up distilled spirits and listening to the corny jokes of regular Ron (Leslie David Baker) for the past 10 years. Now he’s wondering what to do with the rest of his dismal life.
At the far end of the bar, dour Daisy (Michelle Ang) sips her usual beverage, reads a book (“The Woman in the Dunes”) and crudely rebuffs Cooper’s mild attempts to make conversation.
But when she over-imbibes after an unexpected loss, he unwraps her from the restroom commode, helps her stagger out and takes her to sleep it off in his apartment.
In what has to be the least talky courtship on film, Cooper appears nearly tongue-tied and Daisy speaks mostly in expletives. She announces she won’t go to bed with him though Cooper hasn’t yet broached the subject.
Somehow these two forlorn souls – a woeful 36-year-old who hates his job and a negative twentysomething – gravitate toward each other.
They trade insults but take turns showing up at each other’s doors and walking the streets of LA, pausing to watch the traffic from an overpass.
Cooper must be the most miserable mixologist in the business. And no wonder. At his bar, he only has two customers – Daisy and Ron, played with genial bluster by Baker, best known for his work in “The Office” ensemble.
O’Nan does what he can with a flat-affect role. He’s so phlegmatic it’s a shock when he finally asserts himself while Ang, a New Zealander of Malaysian extraction, delivers an annoying but utterly convincing performance as a misanthrope with a mouth on her.
For a best-selling author, Daisy surely has a limited vocabulary. Still in the four-letter department she’s no match for Elizabeth Sung as restaurant owner Joyce, who talks like a wharf rat and takes no prisoners as boss. How did the Hong Kong-born Sung, a Juilliard graduate and former Alvin Ailey dancer, get the words past her teeth?
Canadian actress Jennifer Irwin ducks in and out as a friendly waitress who’s worked with Cooper for 10 years but says she barely knows him, Eric Edelstein, the voice of Grizzly in “We Bare Bears” TV series, is a bug man here, and Giovonnie Samuels has a warm moment as a kennel worker in the sweet uplifting ending.