Ever since “The Big Chill” came out, filmmakers have chased the magical catharsis, humor and sexualized energy of the friends-coming-together-over-a-funeral genre.
When those friends have only been out of high school a few years, there is a lot less emotional depth to mine and the young characters’ perspectives regarding life and death aren’t terribly compelling. Especially when the characters have as little depth and intrigue as those in Matthew McDuffie’s “Burning Bodhi,” which made its world premiere Sunday at the Austin Film Festival.
After learning of his friend Bodhi’s death, Dylan (Landon Liboiron) reluctantly decides to return home from Chicago to Albuquerque for the “FUNeral” being thrown by his cohort’s colorful and eccentric glue, Ember (Cody Horn, the film’s biggest asset).
We learn the reluctance comes from the fact that Bodhi slept with Dylan’s ex, Katy (Kaley Cuoco of “Big Bang Theory” fame). Dylan doesn’t know how to forgive the dead, and though the pain still lingers, he finds himself reaching out to Katy, who has fallen into a group of worthless drug users.
When he returns, Dylan doesn’t just wrestle with his unresolved feelings for his ex (feelings that seem a bit unbelievable for a high school relationship), he must also reckon with his parents as they reunite after years apart due to (guess what?) adultery.
The film traces a weekend of hurt feelings, miscommunications (watching people text in movies may be realistic but it generally makes for a painful moviegoing experience), and attempts to start anew.
But none of the characters or their relationships feel believable or worthy of interest. No amount of running mascara or heroin-chic eye makeup can make Cuoco a realistic addict run amok, and Liboiron’s stilted acting chops are more suited for the small screen (of which he is a veteran) than the big screen. The film’s brightest light is Horn, who mixes boldness and insecurity to dynamic effect. Playing a young lesbian, she gives a refreshing portrayal of ebullient but skittish sexuality.
But the script and soundtrack are an amalgamation of indie tropes. Combine that with poor sound design, weak production, set and costume design, and odd framing, and “Burning Bodhi” loses you before it reaches its intended emotional payoff.