When I went to NYU, the story about film students was that they could never stop talking about movies, just as actors couldn’t stop talking about themselves. If you spent too much time with your film friends, you risked your head exploding from all the talk about George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and some guy named Quentin Tarantino. For sure, the only thing heavier in the air outside the Tisch School of the Arts building than the stench of cigarette smoke was our collective narcissism. Today, I write about movies, except I don’t have many critic friends. This isn’t because they’re odd or intimidating (most of them aren’t), but because there’s only so many times I can talk to someone about the last film they saw, or be told in what order an Asian director’s name should be written out or how to pronounce, say, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, before I want to run out of the room screaming.
Talking about film is work and work can be tiring. Still, we are what we know, except the only thing Scotty Pelk (Melik Malkasian) knows is movies. His obsession with them is a reflection of how disconnected he is from a world of love, war, and sex—sensations he only understands vicariously through the flickering surface of the movie screen. Fired from his job at a video store for creeping out the customers (he recommends Godard to a pair of teenage girls and lectures a man on the legitimacy of letterboxing), he looks for a new job around the neighborhood while trying to court a girl, Niko (Tyler Gannon), he meets on a bus and is attracted to because of her love for David Cronenberg. Countless embarrassments ensue, followed in due time by the improbable success of Scotty’s “pre-graphic, pre-Java” homepage and the wish-fulfillment of geek getting the girl.
It’s through Scotty’s “success” that writer-director James Westby is able to validate his own love for movies. Obviously ripped from the experience of his own life, Film Geek points to our shared obsession with film, except Westby doesn’t examine this fixation so much as he allows his DIY exercise to coast on whatever affinity we may have for the anecdotes he litters across its slim, 72-minute surface. (I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ve wondered what Terrence Malick’s new film would be like, and both my roommate and I remember having conversations with our mothers about the black bars on their TV screens not cutting off the movies they rent.) Westby exposes more of himself than Scotty does whenever he jacks off into the bathroom sink, but while this sort of honesty takes a major set of cojones, it doesn’t take much originality. We probably all know a post-grad film student or two who could have told this same exact story.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t extol Westby’s impressive knowledge of film history and how he exploits this affection in one particularly funny scene. Scotty breaks into his female neighbor’s apartment to look for a VHS tape of Femme Fatale only to have to hide in her closet when she comes home with some dude on her arm. Westby pays homage to De Palma via his use of split-screen, but the real kicker here is how he rewrites the erotic and theoretical import of Femme Fatale‘s Cannes bathroom scene in such a way you’d think he were trying to one-up the famous, norm-defying eating-crapping scenes from Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty. Replacing dykes with breeders and smooching with scatting, Westby also replaces De Palma’s movie-love with repulsion. Does this mean Westby hates himself? I know I hate myself for having spilt this much ink on a film very few people will get to see and, subsequently, talk about.