In Drawing with Chalk, Jay (Todd Giglio, also the film’s director), a 40-year-old working-class family man with Pro Tools skills, decides to give his rock-star dreams one more try. Unfortunately, his buzzkill of a wife, Jasmin (Pooja Kumar), who scolds him when he curses and pretends to be asleep when he wants to have sex, isn’t having any of it. Her voiced support for Jay’s creative pursuits is coupled with a sadistic wish to see him fail so she can keep bossing him around—and complaining that he makes strange patterns on the carpet when he vacuums.
Jay tries to negotiate the sterilizing demands of family life and his recording sessions with his brother Matt (the great Christopher Springer, also one of the screenwriters). Jasmin takes turns forcing Jay to show his music to her old-fashioned family so he they can ridicule him and complaining that he makes strange patterns on the carpet when he vacuums. It’s hard to see why the couple was ever interested in each other in the first place. Despite the constant verbal exchanges of “I love yous,” there isn’t a single thread of chemistry or residue of a passionate past. I wish I could say that Jasmin’s Sphynx-like castrating attitude and Jay’s acquiescence were some kind of critique of the suffocating desolation of heterosexual domesticity. But the film itself seems contaminated with that lack of vigor that its main character is fighting against. There are only two audio tracks: the actors’ dialogue, detached from any environmental sound, and the insistent music (also by Giglio) that sutures every scene, pushing the narrative forward, commenting on the characters’ psychological states, filling in every opportunity for silence. When will American directors understand that it’s okay, sometimes even wonderful, for a film to be silent?
Based on the director and the screenwriters’ own experiences as aging artists in a world that sees nine-to-five office work, a bitchy wife, and cute children as prerequisites for proper manhood, Drawing with Chalk suffers from utilizing the cinematic language of high-budget fare (angles, structure, shots) when it clearly lacks the mainstream resources and the outsider sensibility. Small, artisanal films like this, despite their lack of interest in any kind of political or aesthetic transgressiveness, would do well in learning something from the avant-garde, which always knew to find originality elsewhere instead mimicking paradigms it could only botch.