Surreal and absurd, but also quite touching, director Jon Mackey and writer Jon Millstein’s Belly Flops is a film that just feels different. Granted, there’s an over abundance of short indie “LA” comedies out there right now. You know what I’m talking about…the low key, mumblecore stuff that usually features a protagonist who is an out-of-work actor struggling to “make it”, filmed on a shoestring budget with a small crew. And, while Belly Flops ostensibly appears to be a part of that distinct mold, it manages to subvert things by mashing together both weirdness and heart. For the former, you have Avery Monsen (S/W Favorite from Staycation) as Dom, a man who feels like he has been pulled directly from a 1am SNL sketch and plopped into an indie festival dramedy. At first, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But, if you give him time, Dom will win you over.
Monsen’s weirdness is balanced by Fiona Lander’s relatability as Lisa, a directionless millennial who feels like she’s a constant disappointment and that her life is spiraling out of control. Yeah, that too borders on cliché. But, Landers plays it all with such earnestness and heart, that, ultimately, it works. Too often films of this ilk feel the need to be glib and sarcastic, instead of sincere. Belly Flops goes in the opposite direction and is stronger because of it. It takes a ridiculous premise and grounds it with real character stakes that resonate.
As writer Jon Millstein relates to Short of the Week:
“Having previously done a good deal of work that deals in irony and cynicism, we wanted to make something that was genuine, sincere, and optimistic; embracing and compassionately addressing the feelings of hopelessness we’ve all felt while pursuing of our dreams. We incorporated Dom as our version of a ‘manic-pixie dream-girl. character, who swoops in at the most convenient moment to help the protagonist understand their self better and address their fatal flaw. As we weather the ups-and-downs of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves looking for that person to appear out of nowhere and rescue us from our problems—our Dom characters aims to reveal just how crazy that person can come across and still feel like a “life raft” to a person in need.”
The film feels scrappy in the best of ways—a perfect representation of the sort of indie, DIY yourself sensibility that has inspired many a low budget filmmaker. A small crew. Just a few actors. Stolen locations. Belly Flops isn’t polished and, yeah, that’s kind of its charm. In a world where it seems every filmmaker and her mother has access to an Alexa for the weekend, visual polish doesn’t quite hold the same allure that it once used to. Sure, I like good cinematography as much as the next film fan, but heart sticks with you longer. Mackey and Millstein shot the film with a skeleton crew for $1000. The lack of pretentiousness in the production keeps the focus, smartly, where it needs to be: on character and story.
Mackey and Millstein are currently working on several new projects, including an independent feature as well as other various spec scripts. Keep the indie dream alive, fellas!