On first blush, 388 ARLETTA AVENUE might seem like a clever idea: the motion picture is yet another of the ‘found footage’ flicks, a story edited together from multiple independent cameras videotaping the life and times of a young couple trapped within a curious set of circumstances. However, on closer inspection, I thought much of the decisions made by writer/director Randall Cole were slightly off-kilter to produce anything greater than a bloated vanity project, a curious failure worth watching for curiosity’s sake but perhaps little else.
[NOTE: for the record, ARLETTA is one of those films that has an ending that makes it difficult to discuss the plot/premise without some modest spoilers. I’ve done the best I can with the material, but be warned: there will be minor spoilers contained below.]
James Deakin (played by Nick Stahl) eeks out an existence as an advertising executive. He’s married to a lovely woman, Amy (Mia Kirshner), and, while they’re not living the ‘dream life,’ they certainly appear happy on the surface. Hidden cameras begin to show the “cracks in their relationship,” and, before the viewing audience knows what’s happened, Amy’s gone, possibly abandoning her husband or perhaps abducted by the curious stranger videotaping their lives. Left on his own, James struggles to uncover what happened to his young wife, all the while growing more desperate in a race against time to put things right.
As a ‘found footage’ film, Mr. Cole goes to great lengths to produce a coherent narrative, and, so far as the story presented here is concerned, he does a better-than-middling job. The audience is never told “why” they’re watching the young couple, though we’re lead to believe (maybe by our own ability to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the story) that James has a secret in his past – some dark transgression – and it’s all coming back to haunt him now. Certainly, that’s what James concludes, and he begins to go out and re-establish dialogues with people he’s wronged. Little does he know, he’s actually way off base in that assessment.
And therein lies the curious weakness to ARLETTA: it all flows organically on its own by the direction of the faceless voyeur, a cinema creation of Mr. Cole. It’s the ultimate hat trick – the man behind the curtain – so there’s no real legitimacy to the story. It’s the audience – not the characters – who end up being pawns to Cole’s vision. Indeed, in the brief interview segment on a special feature, Cole talks about the fact that he’d always wanted to do a film about stalking, as well as tinkering with ‘found footage,’ and … voila! Now, he’s fulfilled both projects in one fell swoop, showing the viewer a tale entirely of his design but maybe kinda/sorta not a legitimate story.
In reality, characters are put up against circumstances in order to show how they’d react normally. In 388 ARLETTA AVENUE, nothing unfolds naturally – every event is driven by the designs of a stalker – and, without spoiling the “big reveal” of the conclusion, let’s just say that I found it mostly unsatisfying. In my estimation, it all ends up being a trick of the storyteller – Mr. Cole – and not a development of characters trapped within a story. Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s all exceedingly well-made, and, yes, I’d give it a respectable three stars because I think it works loosely as a character study for James Deakin (loosely, not definitively) … but I can’t dismiss the fact that everything which transpires does so entirely by creation of the writer/director, not the character as he’s been presented here. Had there been more time with Amy – the wife – then I might have more to go on in terms of evaluating the story, how James and Amy choose to live their relationship (here, it’s reduced to a single narrative ‘beat,’ that being their mutual frustration with one another), how James gets along at work, etc. There are hints – subtle threads of the man’s less-than-stellar work performance, the inkling of a former workplace romance, the hint of some spousal abuse – but it was all too small and too inconclusive for my tastes.
If a voyeur chooses his subject randomly, then the portrait of that random choice says something about our society. Am I to believe that every man has a past like James? That’s a deduction I just can’t support, not given the scraps presented here.
388 ARLETTA AVENUE is produced by Copperheart Entertainment. DVD distribution is handled through New Video. As to the production quality of the DVD? Well … to be honest, I had some problems with the video and audio, but I know it all relates to the nature of the beast here. As a ‘found footage’ picture, ARLETTA is entirely filmed and recorded with tiny hidden cameras, all equipped with small microphones. One could make the argument that the audio should’ve been heavily remixed in post production in order to bring some clarity to ALL of the dialogue, not just the snippets that the Mr. Cole wanted or needed as the writer/director, and that’s a big miscue. Simply, there are way too many sections of dialogue that I had to turn the audio all the way up to get any possible idea of what was being said. Stylistically, that was possibly Cole’s intent; however, I thought it was a big mistake. I shouldn’t have to watch a film and repeatedly keep adjusting the volume in order to understand the happenings. The disc boasts only a single special feature – a behind-the-scenes “interview” with the cast and crew – but be warned: it’s only 3 minutes in length, and there’s really nothing substantive learned from it. Disappointing.
RECOMMENDED, especially for fans of ‘found footage’ pictures. While it’s little more than a variation on the ‘found footage’ premise – a jazzy riff on a familiar tune – it’s certainly well done enough to keep others interested, though I don’t know that they’ll hang with it OR be entirely excited by its conclusion. On the plus side, most of these cameras are mounted to tripods, so you don’t get the usual herky-jerky videotaping commonly associated to other flicks in this genre; on the down side, the story really asks the viewer to suspend disbelief quite a bit by failing the true identity of a compelling villain with a compelling mission, and, apparently, that was all by design. Sorry, creative people, but I don’t know anyone with this much time and this much money to invest this much of his life into simply eeking out his days as a routine stalker … except, maybe, Bruce Wayne. Last I knew, his days and nights were already tied up with some other personal mission.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with a DVD screener of 388 ARLETTA AVENUE for the expressed purposes of completing the review.