Dave Ash: his film is no “Matrix”, thank god
After finally crawling out from under the garbage dump of screeners from the Hollywood Moloch timed to coincide with NYFCO’s December awards meeting, I can finally get back to the types of films I really am interested in, namely the documentary and the independent narrative film. The other day I reported on a work-in-progress about Cuban boxing and the fate of a defector to the USA. Today I am going to tell you about a low-budget narrative film with lofty aspirations that succeeds way beyond expectation. I am speaking of “Connected”, a story about a super-alienated computer programmer named John Cooper from Twin Cities and his failed attempt to make an intimate connection with a creative writing instructor named Emily who he meets through match.com.
I can imagine writer and co-director Dave Ash meeting with Harvey Weinstein to try to sell him such a story. For the typical Hollywood producer, the only stories about computer programmers worth an investor’s money recycle “The Matrix” or “The Net”. In my one and only meeting with Harvey Pekar, he told me that his aim from the outset was to create art out of the quotidian realities of everyday life, including loneliness, despair, and alienation. It is to Dave Ash’s credit that he has made an altogether entertaining movie based on such grim realities, becoming in effect the programmer’s answer to Harvey Pekar’s bleak existence as a file clerk in a Cleveland veteran’s hospital.
“Connected” opens with John Cooper walking away from his cubicle into the men’s room at his workplace—a biotech company—and sticking a loaded revolver in his mouth. For the time being, he decides that life is still worth living and puts the gun away.
John would seem to have something to live for since he has been assigned to work on the company’s hot new project, an attempt to translate the human genome into computer code that would prove capable of replicating the human brain to the point of passing the Turing test: a computer is capable of fooling a human being to think that he is communicating with another human.
The irony of course is that the very programmer who is leading the project is having a devil of a time getting through to Emily, the smart and beautiful woman whose character armor—to put it in Reichian terms—would thwart a blockbuster bomb. Like John, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. On one of their first dates, he asks her to reveal something very personal about herself. Without skipping a beat, she says that she was born with two vaginas. He quickly replies that he knew there was something special about her.
“Connected” is very much a two-character narrative with just the right ingredients to make it work, superbly written dialog and outstanding performances with Clarence Wethern as John and Bethany Ford as Emily. There’s also good work from Bill Cooper as John’s psychiatrist who can best be described as cut from the same cloth as Larry David’s creepy shrink in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. During one session, the shrink’s cell phone goes off with a gangster rap ringtone about “bitches” and “ho’s” that he excuses as his teenage son’s work. Of course, what really needs to be excused is having a cellphone on during a psychotherapy session to begin with. Since the movie is fundamentally about alienated relationships in period of pervasive and intrusive electronic communications, it all makes sense in an absurdist fashion.
“Connected” is being submitted to Film Festivals around the country. In my view, it is a lot more interesting than the mumblecore and other nonsense that gets the inside track at Sundance and elsewhere. Let’s cross our fingers that the people behind “Connected” can pull things off. This is a film that deserves the widest viewing.