I’ve often studied the way smart people are portrayed in movies. There are trends. In the 1920s-40s, we had the frizzy-haired mad scientist who dreamed up amazing inventions in his Ken Strickfaden-charged laboratory. In the 1950s, we had the manly macho scientist (often Richard Carlson or John Agar) who was calm, visionary, and took control of the situation.
Since the 1960s, it’s been Jerry Lewis-style geeks. Eddie Deezen has made a career out of playing this stock character. He’s loud, socially inept, smart, and no one likes him. This isn’t to trash Eddie: he does a great job of playing a stock character, but what are you gonna do with a stock character? Lon Chaney Jr. was great as Lennie, but they asked him to do variations on it for the rest of his life. Same with Eddie.
This is why I particularly love a film called Real Genius (1985), which is one of the few movies since the 1950s to depict smart kids as smart kids. The smart boys get the girls, and the girls are smart, too. There is social ineptitude, but it’s real, not cartoonish. The characters are all well-drawn. But Real Genius was an anomaly, and we went back to the loud geek cliche.
So I came with trepidation to this new movie, Welcome to the Future. It’s an indie film, and Sturgeon’s Law applies: 90% of everything is junk. In the world of indie films, 99% of them are junk. And this is about smart people who go to conventions. So I expected the worst. I expected to last 5 minutes and have to turn it off.
But one thing saved it: Larry Blamire liked it. Larry, for those of you who read here often, is one of those guys who makes indie films that are in that 1/2 of 1% that are very good indeed. So I thought, well, if Larry liked it, I’ll give it a shot.
Now, I know that a lot of you rib me that I don’t like any movie made after 1934. Some will rib me that I don’t like any movie shot in color. A lot of you don’t think I will see modern films at all.
And I like modern films. I just don’t like films that suck. I don’t like films that are the same old thing. And yes, I don’t like comic book movies these days because THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY OF THEM.
I’m happy to report that Welcome to the Future does not suck. In fact, it extra strongly does not suck. It’s got some of the cleverest screenwriting I’ve seen in several years. Really. And it’s about smart people, geeks, and there’s not a single Eddie Deezen-style stock character in it. Well, maybe one.
Welcome to the Future was actually shot at a Comic Con. The logistics of doing such a thing are so daunting that I would never attempt it. How they got a usable soundtrack and intelligible dialogue are beyond me. It doesn’t look like much of it is overdubbed, and if it is, it’s amazingly well done. But enough about the technical stuff. I know it’s my favorite part, but not yours.
The movie is essentially about Gene (Leon Morgan) and his pal Mike (Frank Bonacci, also the screenwriter and director). Mike’s girlfriend Taylor (Concetta Rose) is frustrated with him because he keeps ignoring her, and Mike seems to think Taylor is, well, it’s a plot point.
Gene is prone to panic attacks for some strange reason and has trouble dealing with certain topics. We eventually learn why. Enter Angry Cliff (Christopher Ryan) and Rod (Mike Bocchetti), and we’ve rounded out the main cast.
Rod is the most Eddie Deezen-like in the cast, but he’s much more believable than the stock character. Rod simply is so deep into his fandom and his own little world that he can’t really cope with other people. He can have conversations, but he obsesses about characters like Boba Fett and has few contact points with reality. Mostly he just sits silently. I’ve met people like Rod.
Angry Cliff is upset that people and things aren’t going his way. He’s nearly as obsessed as Rod, but he feels alienated from mainstream culture and hates the newbies that have invaded his world of geekdom. I’ve met people like Angry Cliff.
Gene looks at it a different way: the mainstream has invaded geek culture because the geeks won. Mike isn’t so sure. He especially hates the fact that some people are dressed as characters from the film Xanadu, a position I find completely defensible, but you all know I hate disco.
Welcome to the Future hits all of these notes and still captures the love and joy that these characters get from their fandom. It also touches on some other stock characters: the drunken, out-of-work actor (Craig Geraghty) who’s been in some movies that the fans like but doesn’t get the whole fan thing. The classic-era artist (Jack Piccinni) who’s too old and out of it to care anymore, only egged on by his wife, who seems to be holding on to their last source of income.
These characters are all real, and they resonate well here. Bonacci’s script doesn’t talk down to us or condescend to his characters. It’s talky: there’s a lot of discussion, but there needs to be.
Gene’s character gets a good story arc and has some redemption toward the end. He doesn’t reject geek culture but rather learns to share it and distance a little. Rod is beyond any sort of redemption, and Angry Cliff probably is, but Mike doesn’t seem to be.
I get the feeling that there is more to the story of Mike and Taylor after the end of this film. Sequel? I’d watch it. I think Mike has some more character growth in him.
I guess one of the reasons I like this so much is that I relate to the characters so much, and there seems to be very little of these kinds of people in regular media. The only note Bonacci seems to miss is a typical person I seem to find at every convention.
I’m speaking of the people who are so obsessed with fan culture that they wrote their own book/screenplay/comic book about something. At Star Trek conventions, this person is almost always female and has a story about Mr. Spock.
If someone up to you and says, “I wrote this story about Mr. Spock,” you should always politely run in the other direction. It will save you an hour of discussion.
This is a manifestation of the fact that a great number of these people are actually closeted artists who can’t quite get to their own art. They express it by over-loving others’ work. They may be too untalented, too antisocial, too unlucky, or just plain too scared to succeed at creating their own works.
I think most of the characters in Welcome to the Future are frustrated artists and creators, if they’d admit it to themselves. They’re archetypes that I believe. And that makes this all the more real. I recommend it.
After all, I wrote this story about Mr. Spock.