What: Film Review
Directed and Written by: Frank V. Ross
Produced by: Joe Swanberg, Jacqueline E. Ingram
Starring: James Ransone, Alexia Rasmussen, Alex Karpovsky, Natasha Lyonne, David Pasquesi, Joe Swanberg
Running Time (in min.): 75 minutes
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Official Selection of the Rooftop Films 2015 Summer Series
Lonnie is a boisterous drunkard in the most forgettable sense, a nearly-forty-but-still-looks-thirty burnout painting houses in Chicago for a living. The minutiae of his life hold some meaning for his father, sister, and best friend, but otherwise, he’s a small fish in an enormous pond, and not looking to change that. As played in a long-overdue leading role by James Ransone (who’s having a banner year, with major roles in Sean Baker’s Tangerine and the upcoming Sinister 2,) Lonnie doesn’t care about much besides passing the time, shooting clay pigeons with simpleton buddies and holing up in his apartment with a videogame.
Ransone’s casting is just the first in several masterstrokes made one after the other in Bloomin Mud Shuffle, the newest and sweetest film from the gifted filmmaker Frank V. Ross. Like his Gotham-nominated Tiger Tail in Blue – which he similarly wrote, edited, and directed on a microbudget – Ross compromises the banality of his protagonists’ lifestyles with universal palpitations of the heart: in this case, Lonnie is falling in love with Monica, who is both the daughter of his boss (Doug McDade, sweetly grounded) and a woman on the rebound from a long relationship. Alexia Rasmussen (The Comedy, 2015’s SXSW hit Creative Control) is just right for the role, too, because, as Lonnie is forced to acknowledge, she’s one small notch too beautiful and several years too young for them to have an adult relationship with consequences. Instead, Monica prefers to hook up, shattering Lonnie in the meantime with undermining questions like, “Why are you so nice to me?”
What Ransone suggests behind inordinately wide eyes, which made such a powerful impression on me while watching him as Ziggy Sobotka in the second season of The Wire, is the answer: he is desperate to be loved by someone like Monica, who seems emotionally stable, on track for a middle-class future, and witty to boot. In their conversations, which focus mostly on the disparity in their feelings for one another, Ross mines that gap through punchy dialogue and an acute attention to their faces. Sweet nothings like Lonnie’s rarely seem so fully melancholic.
That’s not to say, however, that his life is a total shambles, nor that Rasmussen’s character is as cold as she seems. In one of the film’s greatest moments, Ross cuts between his protagonists’ two simultaneous dinners, which are nearly identical in tenor and sequence. Lonnie and his sister (Natasha Lyonne, effervescent as always) hang around with their goofy father, ribbing each other until dad falls asleep in front of the TV. All the while, Lonnie constantly text-messages Monica, whose house is filled with family friends, her obnoxious teen brother, and cold brewskies. Back-and-forth we go, following the texts like carrier pigeons, as Rasmussen and Ransone subtly descend into different moods.
Ross’s direction and editorial craft here are symbiotic and exemplary, articulating nuances in these characters that a more populist narrative might abandon in favor of story. On this count, Bloomin Mud Shuffle falls short, though of course that’s neither here nor there with a film produced by Joe Swanberg (like this one, also produced by Jacqueline E. Ingram); force of plot hardly drives the central relationship, while interiority and concealed thoughts determine how things play out. Rather than traditional three-act movements, Ross is more comfortable with a kind of portraiture, so long as its figures’ details are pronounced and their lives vivid. For me, the filmmaker’s work here with Mike Gibisser, his D.P., recalls literal portraits, somewhere in between Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Crying Men series – in which beautiful photographs of Hollywood actors depicted them crying, inexplicably – and the 1950s Chicago street scenes of Vivian Maier. Ransone and Alex Karpovsky, who plays his wise-cracking best friend, would both feel right at home in either series.
As sensitive and inspired as Bloomin Mud Shuffle feels, Ross has made a particularly “Midwestern” film, and that adjective helps to explain the moseying tenderness with which he attends to drama. As if to remark on his talents, various indie stalwarts, namely producer Swanberg, the writer/performer Kent Osborne, and VEEP‘s David Pasquesi, make key appearances here. Appropriately, the movie had its World Premiere at the 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival and, more recently, screened to highly receptive crowds at the Rooftop Films 2015 Summer Series in Brooklyn, NY. As of this writing, the trajectory for the film has been unannounced, but the presence of name actors and executive producer Alicia Van Couvering suggests Ross’s upward mobility. The faster, the better, I think.
Editor’s Note: Bloomin Mud Shuffle has been announced as an Official Selection of the 17th Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, AL, running Aug. 27 – 30. Those in the area are strongly encouraged to make a journey to see this film.