THE STORY – A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough, two kids searching for a lost backpack, and a small dog a long way from home.
THE CAST – David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Dominic Fike, Talia Ryder, Jena Malone, Sante Bentivoglio, Angela Sarafyan & Karl Glusman
THE TEAM – Jack Begert (Director/Writer) & Dani Goffstein (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
Focusing on one main story in a film seems like filmmaking 101, but Jack Begert decides to throw that out the window with his directorial debut feature film “Little Death.” Most recently, Trey Edward Schultz split “Waves” into two distinct halves even though they were all part of the same story, so why don’t more people do it? Well, because it’s not easy to pull off, often because the stories end up being too disjointed or not equally engaging, and it doesn’t entirely work for Begert. Aside from some connections between the two stories in “Little Death,” such as the film’s overarching theme of drug use and addiction, it makes you wonder why we needed to spend time with an unlikeable character and why the film couldn’t have been dedicated to the far more exciting storyline.
We start with Martin (David Schwimmer), a depressed, middle-aged Hollywood filmmaker on the brink of directing his first film. Until now, his career has been disappointing, with an uninspired 11-season body-switch television show under his belt, so he needs this big break. But, really, he just needs a win in his life. His relationship with his fiance (Jena Malone) seems chaotic and toxic, and no one likes to be around him. It could be all the drugs that he’s taking, which lead him to see some wild things — crazy A.I. animations and graphics are seen throughout this part of the film — and dream about a mysterious woman (Angela Sarafyan). Begert has a vibrant background in music videos, so it’s no wonder why he chose to incorporate these colorful, dizzying visual elements.
Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Martin, he learns that Hollywood isn’t interested in another movie with a white male lead. But, the financier would back his project if he simply changed the main character to a woman. Cheekily, Begert also decides to swap in Gaby Hoffmann for Schwimmer’s character to show that switch on a meta-level. In this film, these aren’t great people to be around, nor does Begert say anything new about Hollywood and its “woke agenda,” but Hoffmann is always a welcome addition. Schwimmer also does a great job leaning into this unlikeable character; his exhausted expression says it all.
Just when you’ve had enough of the Martin character — and you certainly will – the plot abruptly (and unexpectedly) shifts gears. We’re in the company of AJ (Dominic Fike) and Karla (Talia Ryder), two 20-something-year-olds whose car and belongings are stolen during a drug run. All the self-loathing and crazy A.I. visuals from the film’s first half vanish as we now follow a more gripping story of two people trying to retrieve their belongings and coming into contact with some strange characters from Los Angeles along the way. Drug use continues here, as both AJ and Karla are addicts and use for different reasons. Karla’s inner struggles are spotlighted more than AJ’s, which Ryder portrays sensitively, but Fike, who has spoken about his own drug use, also keeps his performance grounded. As they try to get their belongings back, the pair have to rely on their wildly incompetent friend (Sante Bentivoglio) and survive a tense situation at a drug dealer’s house (Karl Glusman), à la “Boogie Nights.”
The second half of “Little Death” is lightyears more compelling than the first, mainly because it’s much easier to connect with AJ and Karla and feel their struggles than Schwimmer’s woe-is-me Hollywood guy. There’s so much more excitement in the young couple’s journey. You never know what might await them as they make their way through the city. Also, you want to see them succeed, but all the obstacles they face and the creepy nighttime setting constantly keep the stakes high. Martin’s story, however, lacks this type of energy. By the time the credits roll, you wish you could have watched AJ and Karla’s story the entire time and not even have bothered with Martin’s.
The results with Begert’s mid-film switch are clunky and don’t hit it out of the park entirely, but at least he tried something different. It’d be interesting to see him try this format again in the future, only this time having two equally interesting stories with characters you really want to get to know.