November 13, 2012

Thinking of Las Vegas

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Las Vegas brings to mind wishful thoughts, hidden regrets and flashy pomp and circumstance. Our tourist experiences are often, if not always, translated through a flamboyant interpreter: Hollywood. Think of Me challenges the Hollywood interpretation of the city and reveals a Las Vegas that is is a far (but refreshing) cry from films like 21 or The Hangover. Think of Me unveils a real Las Vegas tale without the ostentatious play of “The Strip.” Director Bryan Wizemann ’95 brings an original tale to campus in the penultimate installation of the “Alums Making Movies” series at Cornell Cinema.

The film is set in a Las Vegas that is unfamiliar to most of us, and the film reveals that the Hollywood Las Vegas we see is only a small area within the bounds of a bigger, less desirable city. It is in the outlying Las Vegas, where Angela Jerome (Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under), a single mother, raises her young daughter, Sunny (newcomer Audrey Scott). Nothing much is said of Angela’s past but we can assume that an underprivileged childhood underscores her present struggle.

Sunny is one of the few sources of joy in Angela’s life. Angela barely makes ends meet but strives for a comfortable life for her daughter. She loves her daughter but cannot seem to find a sanctuary suitable for her growth. One of Angela’s coworkers, Max (Dylan Baker), tries to ameliorate her situation. He offers her rides home, pays for her meals and drives for a meaningful relationship despite his nonchalant attitude. Over an email conversation with The Sun, Wizemann said, “Max is as ambiguous as he is amoral. I don’t see him as an evil character, but rather someone who is out for himself and honestly sees himself as helping the situation.” Max’s sister, Louise (Penelope Ann Miller from The Artist), meets Sunny, falls for her and offers to give the academically struggling Sunny tutoring sessions and babysit for the busy Angela. It almost seems too good to be true. Louise acts as the mother that Angela never was able to be.

This film is more of a human analysis than a dramatic narrative. Call it “a stripping of The Strip,” if you will. All the characters — Angela, Sunny, Max and Louise — find a relationship with their viewers. As the film nears its end, the audience may find themselves hating Angela for her large sum of bad decisions. However misled these decisions are, they could be our own. “I don’t think lead characters always have to engender sympathy to achieve that kind of identification,” explains Wizemann. In terms of Max, there is never a complete understanding of his character. His expressionless façade brings no real gravity to his acts of kindness. There is no black or white to his role. “Even toward the end of the film, he offers to help Angela with her car, some see that as out of character, where I see it as simply a complex side of a complex character,” Wizemann said.

I was surprised by how much I connected with Angela and Sunny. Although the film is “fictional,” Wizeman said, “many elements of my own adolescence, growing up in Vegas with no money by a single mother, found its way into the film. It ended up becoming a very personal project in the end, though I never really intended it to be in the beginning.” Wizemann continued, “I think making work personal always has its advantages and forces you to revisit and reveal sides of yourself you may not want to revisit. There’s always more risk involved, but I think the reward is greater when compared to a work of the imagination. I feel the more personal you can make a work, the more universal its appeal will ultimately be.”

This off-the-strip tale portrays modern-day, first-world poverty in a powerful and beautiful way. Wizemann skillfully weaves the film’s pivotal moments together, making this seemingly simple plot run much deeper. Midway through the film, I was able to empathize with Angela so well that I found myself calculating her tight day-to-day expenses alongside of her. Think of Me is not your average casino tale. The questions that the film raised resonated with me long after I left the theater. The reality depicted in the film still continues to hit hard as I analyze my own past.

Think of Me screens tonight at 7:15 p.m. at Cornell Cinema, with filmmaker Bryan Wizemann ’95 attending in person. Wizemann will also deliver a free artist’s talk at the Schwartz Film Forum today at 10:10 a.m.

Original Author: Teresa Kim