Hedgehog

Director Lindsey Copeland’s second feature “Hedgehog” fails one of the most basic tenets of storytelling. If you can’t make your lead character likable, at least make them compelling. And if you can’t make them compelling, at least make them interesting. And if you can’t make them interesting, at least make it worth our while to follow them.

This movie made its World Premiere at the 2017 Cinequest Film Festival. This is a review of the version screened at this festival.

Somewhere in the greater Boston area, Allie (Madeline Brewer, “Orange is the New Black” and “Hemlock Grove”) works at a local stand-up comedy club and dreams of becoming a stand-up herself. She loves hanging out with her cousin Kyle (Robbie Tann) and his fiancee Amy (Jessica Renee Russell), and she’s battling some pretty fierce demons. She’s fairly broke after refusing to allow Amy to buy her bridesmaid dress, and can’t even get her boss at work to float her a two week advance. He’ll pay her more if she ever got up on stage and did a routine, but she just won’t. Why? Who knows? [We will, soon enough.] A friend at work tells her about an opportunity to assist Joan (Ann Down, “The Leftovers”), a woman he knows who walks with a cane, with packing up her house for an impending move. After stopping at a record store to drop a Grant on some used vinyl, Allie starts to assist Joan with the packing, until she gets caught up reading a book Joan has on one of her many bookshelves, which happens to be written by Joan herself. And to top it all off, and Allie is also taking an adult education class on “Writing for Comedy.” And just to make her life even more complicated, she meets Sean (Danny Deferrari) at Kyle and Amy’s wedding, who Allie first thinks is an asshole after he somewhat helps her find her wedding speech [although she’s not the Maid of Honor], but soon finds herself falling for.

As the film unfolds [and I don’t consider this a spolier, since every since article about the film since it was first announced in 2015 has mentioned this plot point], we discover Allie is the daughter of a local comedy legend who died of a heroin overdose when she was ten years old, and her reluctance to actually do a stand-up gig comes from her deep-seated fear that she will follow her father’s self-destructive path. As a plot device, it’s not necessarily a bad choice. Children often fear following in their parents’ footsteps. It’s just that by the time we get to this point of the story, Allie is such a mess of bad and easily avoidable choices that it’s very hard to sympathize with or for her.

It also doesn’t help that “Hedgehog” runs nearly two hours and twenty minutes, about as long as 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner “Spotlight” or either “Avengers” movie. And “Hedgehog” isn’t telling the story of uncovering a conspiracy to hide sexual abuse in the Catholic Church or half a dozen superheroes battling bad guys to save the planet. It’s a story of a petulant woman-child that’s a pain to be with, and runs a good twenty to thirty minutes longer than it needs to be. There’s plenty of space to cut this down to a potentially good movie. Like the above mentioned record store scene. The actual scene is only a minute and a half long, and then it’s visually referenced again briefly in the next scene. But there’s no real payoff for the scene other than to reinforce the concept that Allie makes bad choices, which already has been at this point and will continually be reinforced multiple times afterward throughout the movie. Or the final scene, which has a far more satisfying ending within the existing footage and hopefully a few coverage shots that didn’t make the final cut. Then there’s a throwaway scene where Allie gets a “small victory” with someone who harmed Joan in the past that could be completely excised without losing anything to the overall storyline other than running time, especially in light of Joan never learning about it, as well as a number of shots where Allie just wanders around Kyle’s house, or Joan’s house, which also have zero reward.

If Allie is meant to be insufferable, then Ms. Brewer has hit this one out of the park. But following an unendurable brat does not a good movie make. The entire time watching “Hedgehog,” I couldn’t help but wish that the story would go off and follow some of these other characters, who are far more absorbing, for a while. I would have loved to spend more time with Kyle and Amy, or with Joan. Especially Joan. My goodness, if there is one performance that really saves the movie, it is Ms. Dowd’s. You’ve seen her in so many things, from “Apt Pupil” to “Freaks and Geeks” to “Marley and Me” to “Masters of Sex,” even if you never knew her name, but given status as second star shows that Hollywood casting agents need to start giving her bigger and better roles.

The movie also suffers from poor lighting throughout, as if the DP and director decided they were fans of the Dogme 95 Manifesto (shooting must be done on location, the camera must be hand-held, special lighting is not acceptable, etc.) without understanding there were exceptions to some of the rules, like adding a single lamp to the camera if there was too little light for exposure, while some scenes go in and out of focus so randomly, one must wonder if it was shot on an iPhone or low-grade camera purchased on a whim at Best Buy.

Hopefully, the filmmakers will consider these first screenings like a workshop, and go back to the editing bay for another round of cuts. There is a fairly good movie hidden within this jumbled mess, and I look forward to seeing the film again once it’s been tightened up.

Rating: C