An in-competition title at the ongoing 14th annual Dances With Films festival, The Aristocrat tells the story of a traveling salesman who’s spending his final few weeks on the job breaking in his callow, cocksure replacement. A character-based small business drama that eventually morphs into a sort of low-fi back-stabbing thriller, the movie lacks the slickness, skill or psychological perspicacity to deliver on any of its twists or turns.
Set in the late 1980s, and shot on location in Massachusetts, The Aristocrat centers on an aging salesman, Marc Ward (Jeff Gill), who seems worn down and resigned to the fact that he’s basically little more than a human catalogue. Former shoe salesman Eddie Kent (Adam Soule), however, is convinced that he can land big commissions in this new job, so he immediately starts applying his own brand of snake oil charm and pressure in the follow-up meetings on which Marc brings him along. This rubs a couple clients the wrong way, and also upsets things with a woman, Becca (Megahn Perry, an utter delight), with whom Marc has been carrying on a casual, months-long, quite chaste flirtation at a local diner. (This is of course begs the question of exactly what sort of traveling salesman decamps and works mainly one area for many weeks out of a six-month period, but nevermind.)
Eddie’s aggressive, chatty ways finally seemingly pay off with a big-fish client (Paxton Whitehead), and it’s not long before the pair run into an old acquaintance of Eddie’s, an enterprising antiques dealer named Charlie (Gary Henoch). While another job opportunity presents itself, Charlie’s work seems to interest Marc more than even the completion of the rest of his working days, setting the scene for a series of decisions with long-stretching ramifications.
At times, especially early on, The
Aristocrat feels like it could be partially based on some lost, early David Mamet manuscript, which is most assuredly a compliment. There’s a snap to the dialogue without it being ostentatious, and the grooves of generational conflict are nicely laid out, with small glances here and pinprick asides there. Other details seem yawningly under-developed though; Marc is supposedly a salesman in the semi-conductor business, but apart from one backdrop and some willfully vague chatter in a business meeting, this detail is completely unexploited, either literally or metaphorically. Marc and Eddie might as well be peddling Garden Weasels, for all it matters. More problematically, though, a general feeling of static constipation eventually gives way to a fumbling third act that is less narrative overreach than just bumbled execution. For more information on the movie, click here. (Three Times Productions, unrated, 93 minutes)