The Blue Tooth Virgin

In college, where self-indulgence and pretentiousness are practically their own electives, especially in the creative arts, a theater acquaintance who dabbled in his own brand of snarky, self-referential, low-fi music, wrote a song (for another friend's original stageplay, it's worth noting) in which he wearyingly noted it was "time to go put on the 'Good work!' facade." The Blue Tooth Virgin intriguingly transposes this notion of necessarily glad-handing feedback to Hollywood and the independent film realm, and chronicles the hurt and petty jealousy — common to almost any creative individual, as well as anyone who's felt the sting of a loved one or family member's shrug — that comes bubbling to the surface when niceties fall away and shared opinions aren't all rosy.

The film centers around two Los Angeles wordsmiths, Sam (Austin Peck, above left), an aspiring screenwriter with a cult success, short-lived TV credit to his name, and David (Bryce Johnson, of Sleeping Dogs Lie), a successful magazine editor at a locally based laddie publication. The duo have been friends for years, but when David doesn't appreciate Sam's latest script it opens a fissure in their friendship that spreads through the rest of their lives. Ultimately, both guys must reevaluate their motivations for writing, their need for outside praise and validation, and what it means to see yourself as you actually are.

Written and helmed by Russell Brown, a still-young multi-hyphenate with the benefit of both previous directorial know-how as well as different industry experience and the perspective which that provides, The Blue Tooth Virgin is named after the achingly arty screenplay Sam passes off to David for feedback. A noirish character study (because Sam is really all about character, as he frequently intones) full of transsexuals, private investigators, time-traveling and mystery, the narrative within the movie seems like a cheeky nod of homage to Tom DiCillo, who's aped the well-traveled grooves of independent cinema in movies like Living In Oblivion and The Real Blonde. It's the perfect leaping-off point for a discussion of what film could and should mostly be — a challenge to audiences, or a salve?

The nice, conversational rapport between Peck and Johnson — a sort of budget lookalike for Paul Walker — is the film's strongest selling point, and Brown imbues his work with real, lived-in dialogue that captures the ways we frequently muddy our feelings in trying to dance around directness. There's the danger of the movie becoming too insular, an inside-the-Beltway-type circle jerk of specifically artistic competitiveness and grievance. Brown mitigates this somewhat with an argument between Sam and his white-collar wife, Rebecca (Lauren Stamile), that, while solid in theory, needs to be anchored a bit more in tongue-loosened drunkeness than how it plays.

Interestingly, and decidedly for the better, The Blue Tooth Virgin also trades in long-form scenes that serve as call-and-response mirror images of one another. (Quotations on the turmoil of the artistic process help serve as chapter divides within the film.) Though this tack could be sacrificed and tweaked a bit up front for more energy and surface appeal, it helps him more or less get to the meat of his conceit, and pays dividends later in the movie, in a pair of engaging scenes in which Sam and David crawl inside their own heads (the former with a New Age-y creative consultant, the latter with a more conventional therapist) and try to root out what their writing means to them. Captured in simple, point-and-shoot, low-fi strokes, The Blue Tooth Virgin doesn't aim for grand-gesture profundity; it's nervous and ambivalent about "correct" notions of modern cinematic storytelling, as reflected in the gulf of opinion between its characters. But it entertainingly captures the ever-present tension between art and commerce, and again sets on a tee the age-old question: is it an audience that makes a work a legitimate piece of art? (Regent, R, 79 minutes)


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