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‘5/25/77’ (review)

Produced by Leigh Jones, Fred Roos,
William Holmes, Gary Kurtz
Written and Directed by Patrick Read Johnson
Starring John Francis Daley, Austin Pendleton,
Colleen Camp, Neil Flynn, Steven Coulter

 

Patrick Read Johnson’s autobiographical film 5/25/77 has taken around 17 years to reach screens. Johnson wrote the initial script in 2000, finally shot most of the film in 2006, after which the footage languished for a decade.

Johnson attempted to find distribution through the major studios, but no one bit.

After watching the 132 minute cut, I can see why, but I’m still surprised that it couldn’t find some kind of release until now, especially with the resurgence of the Star Wars series’ popularity in recent years.

A young John Francis Daley – post-Freaks and Geeks but pre-Bones – portrays high schooler Johnson (and lest we ever forget, his mother shouts his full name many times throughout the film), a movie-mad, sci-fi nerd who has his heart set on moving to Hollywood to become a big-time director.

The seed is planted when his parents take 6 year old Johnson to a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he’s blown away. He begins making his own backyard productions with the family home movie camera, would-be epics with titles such as Requiem For The Planet of The Apes.

The film opens with a very amusing montage of young Johnson and his friends and siblings making these films, often using some earnest but cheesy effects and an occasionally ingenious one.

This part of the film is quite enjoyable, if tempered somewhat by the delayed release. The novelty of these scenes has worn off, thanks to recent films such as Son of Rambow and the wonderful backyard Raiders of The Lost Ark remake, as documented in the film Raiders! The Story of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.

What would have seemed fresh a decade ago is unfortunately not so much today. Even so, the scenes with young Johnson directing the goofy films with the passion and determination of Ed Wood are quite endearing, especially for nerds like myself who did the same things as a kid.

These moments and a wonderful section wherein Johnson, still months away from graduation, takes a brief trip to Hollywood in the hopes of meeting one of his idols, visual effects master Douglas Trumbull, are true pleasures. Any sci-fi film nerd will relish the Hollywood scenes, which are boosted immeasurably by the always-terrific Austin Pendleton as a cynical, burned-out but still hopeful film geek (and then-editor of American Cinematographer magazine).

Where the film falters is in the handling of the rather bland coming-of-age tale of a young man with stars in his eyes who’s desperate to leave his tiny town in the middle of nowhere to achieve his dreams. His dreams are also threatened by his falling in love with a local cutie who has no interest in living anywhere else, and a best friend who Johnson wants to bring to Hollywood with him, yet has the same minor-but-sincere ambitions as Johnson’s girl.

Most of the coming-of-age stuff is fine in and of itself (though Johnson occasionally allows things to get a bit too cutesy and/or broad at times), but at 132 minutes, the conflicts become almost ridiculously repetitive.

Whenever the best friend would whine about whatever-the-hell (which is often) and the girlfriend reassures Johnson that her childhood friend is only that (which is often), I just wanted to fast-forward to the sci-fi/Hollywood stuff.

The title, of course, refers to the release date of the first Star Wars, something which young Johnson spends around half the movie talking about and chomping at the bit to arrive. It’s so drawn out that even the hardiest Star Wars fan might very well wish for the film to just get to it.

For the record, the premiere is fun, and despite my misgivings about the film (one more debit for dissing Star Trek – blasphemy!!), I found 5/25/77 worthwhile. The good parts are very good, the weaker stuff at least tolerable.

I just wish Johnson had cut the film by a good twenty to thirty minutes. If so, he’d have a minor gem on his hands.

 

For screening information, visit 5-25-77themovie.com

 

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