Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘Paperback’ deals with love triangle

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By Wes Eichenwald for the American-Statesman

Rob (Adam Bowers), an unpublished novelist pushing 30 and still living in his hometown, working in a pizzeria while waiting for a big break that never comes, falls for winsome, wide-eyed Emily (Dreama Walker), who turns out to be – wait for it – the wife of his best friend, Jason (Colin Contreary), a successful writer who just moved back from New York to teach at the local college. Whatever will they do?

Bowers – who wrote, directed, and edited “Paperback” along with starring in it – has made a moderately appealing millennial rom-com where the continually fast-flying quips might or might not rescue the shopworn concept, depending on your tolerance for heavily dialogue-driven low-cost indie films. Shot on a Kickstarter-funded budget of $39,000, “Paperback,” Bowers’ second full-length feature, was largely filmed in the dimly lit homes, bars, bookstores and clubs of Gainesville, Fla., an unglamorous university town not much seen on film (that city’s active indie rock scene is also represented to good effect in the soundtrack).

Bowers’ filmmaking model seems more hermetic than expansive, more Gainesville’s answer to Woody Allen than Richard Linklater in its focus on the love triangle. You can applaud his determination, but in the end the film’s main problem seems to be Bowers himself. As an actor he’s so low-energy and static that you wonder what Emily sees in Rob in the first place, and the stolid Contreary isn’t much better. Walker is far more natural, and Genevieve Jones nearly steals the film in the role of Samantha, Rob’s other best friend. Jones brings a brassy verve to Samantha, a single mom and Rob’s straight-talking gal-pal coworker at the pizza joint, who’s roped into fake-girlfriend duty in the course of events. Subtexts like professional jealousy and the ways that close friendships can evolve over time are touched on, but never fully explored.

“Paperback” is far from a terrible film – it’s intelligent, good-hearted, often witty, and works its way to a reasonably satisfying conclusion – but beneath its twentysomething indie clothes, it’s nothing we haven’t seen time and again. Bowers gets an A for effort and we wish him well, but on his next time out he might consider staying behind the camera and wearing one or two fewer hats.

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