Choose Connor

Twenty-one year old Luke Eberl’s youthfulness fills the screen with his film “Choose Connor,” getting excellent performances from his leads, and his story about an idealistic teen finding himself corrupted by the system he wishes to one day be a part of has flashes of incredible maturity and complexity. Yet he still has some things to learn about the basic tenets of storytelling before he can become a quality filmmaker.

(Note: This is a review of the version screened on June 8, 2007 at the CineVegas Film Festival, and may not be 100% representative of the final version.)

Alex Linz, the young actor who made an early splash as Michelle Pfieffer’s son in “One Fine Day” and as Macauley Culkin’s replacement in the “Home Alone” franchise, stars as Owen Norris, a driven student who is graduating from middle school at the top of his class. As fortune would have it, the Merit of Excellence Award he receives at his graduation is being handed to him by none other than Congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber of “Wings” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” fame), who is somewhat of a hero to the young man. Being the kind of socially awkward person many driven students, friendless and quick to speak his mind because he hasn’t learned the ramifications of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, Owen presses Connor on a possible conflict of interest between the Congressman’s support for both a clean air bill and a light rail bill, each which have been written with potential loopholes that could leave both bills creating more problems than what they were intended to solve. But rather than ignore or shirking off the kid, whose words are spoken to the Congressman in private, Connor instead invites Owen to meet him at his local office, where the young man can spend more time explaining his concerns.

Quickly, Owen finds his words have not only not fallen on deaf ears, but Connor is offering the young man, who has built his life around becoming a public figure once he is old enough, a position in the Congressman’s Senatorial campaign as his Youth Campaign Spokesperson. After getting an early look at the life he sees as his future, including attending a fundraising party whose attendants including the city’s Police Chief and a number of important local businessmen, Owen quickly signs aboard the campaign. Naturally, Owen promptly discovers he is in over his head far more than he expected or wanted, becoming peripherally aware of some dirty dealings happening just under his nose.

It is this subplot, which involves drug abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse, where the film loses its footing. It seems Eberl has followed Syd Field’s three act structure to a T, and listened closely to the maxim that you should never introduce a plot point that you don’t plan on using later, yet he doesn’t fully exploit, utilize or resolve these very important issues. These moments are used to show how deep Owen is into the system under the surface, and meant to put him in a sort of grave danger, yet Owen is never really put into real danger. The one person who is really in peril is Caleb (Escher Holloway), the Congressman’s adopted nephew, who tries to warn Owen off his intended path, even while the two become friends, with very good reason.

“Choose Connor” is Mr. Linz first real chance to show the world what he has as an actor, and Linz nails his role. Eberl wisely allows Linz to be a real teenager, with a face full of pimples and pock marks and ugly shag hair cut (even if the hair gives him more than a passing resemblance to Andy Samberg). With more multifaceted roles like Owen Norris, Linz has a fighting chance to make the uncomfortable transition from child actor to adult star. Holloway, given very little to do besides make some Killer Klowns-like puppets and give longing looks at Owen, does he best to infuse Caleb with far more personality than what was written on the page, but there is only so much any actor can do with a poorly fleshed out character. Weber, who has successfully transformed himself from goofy sidekick to slimy executive-type, also builds something out of nothing, incredulously making Connor somewhat sympathetic despite his disgusting predilections.

What is truly scary about the movie, however, is its moral ambiguity and cynicism towards the modern political process. If film is an extension of our individual worldview and someone of Eberl’s age has already become this disenfranchised with our leadership, what does this say about where we will be as a nation once these young adults become our elder statesmenr True, ethically fallow politicians long ago make the statement “The children are our future” a worthless phrase long ago, but Eberl’s spin on it here could make the phrase irretrievably obsolete should the film find proper distribution, and thus a proper audience.

“Choose Connor” has the same strong but naive worldview that many young people have today, and it will be interesting to see where Eberl goes with his next films, as his voice could become a vital new one for cinema, with a little more growth and opportunity. His is definitely a name to keep an eye on.

Rating: B-