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93 minutes | Unrated
SF: Friday, November 15, 2002
Directed by Leif Tilden
Starring Billy Wirth, Jennifer Rubin, Corey Glover, Rainer Judd, Marlene Forte, Dwier Brown, Andres Faucher, David Beron, Steven Gilborn
Low-budget style, pedestrian personalities encumber reuinted high school pals in Dogme95 dramedy
Although propped up by the art house cachet of being part of the experimental Dogme95 minimalist cinema movement, the high school reunion dramedy "Reunion" cannot seem to escape the semi-stock characters and formulaic catharses that are par for the genre course.
Reuniting with their former teenage clique in Ojai, California, the half dozen 1981 graduates focused on by writer Kimberly Shane O'Hara and director Lief Tilden are seen largely though the eyes of Jeanie (Jennifer Rubin), an outsider that none of the film's group of friends recognizes from their teens. She had been an awkward wallflower in school, but has since blossomed into a confident, worldly coquette (and very unconvincing professional photographer).
Jeanie blows into town to exorcise some personal demons by revealing her successful adult self to those who once ignored her and by sleeping with the former school stud (Billy Wirth), who is now bitter about winding up a lowly bus driver -- and more than willing to oblige the off-kilter advances of this pretty, esoteric woman he doesn't remember at all as a girl.
As the group assembles at their old pizza joint hang-out (which has gone veggie under the ownership of a dead classmate's cokehead younger brother), they're joined by a bland Army Lt. Colonel (Dwier Brown) who has just been dismissed for coming out of the closet, a musician (Corey Glover) returning to town and meeting his son for the first time since running away from a pregnant girlfriend at age 18, the former town tramp (Marlene Forte) who is now the firey, Type-A town mayor and a neurotic new divorcee (Rainer Judd) who gave up her dreams to put her husband through college and has just been left for a younger woman. Everyone's interpersonal issues are summarily telegraphed and cataloged before the reuniting of good friends begins to have a therapeutic effect on each of them.
Most of the cast takes their characters' journeys to heart and turns in pithy, if sometimes indefinite, performances. Rubin is especially good and has, by far, the most depth to work with, playing a woman who thought she had truly left her past behind but can't seem to shake her desire to be accepted by -- and to toy a little with -- these people who welcome her today but excluded her 20 years ago. It's just a shame she barely knows how to hold a camera. It seems that not much thought went into career credibility.
Being filmed on hand-held digital video (per Dogme rules) that is unfortunately cheap looking and distractingly pixely, the picture is meant to have a slightly home-movie ambiance. But even if the effect worked, it wouldn't compensate for the way director Tilden keeps the characters at arm's length. Watching "Reunion" feels like being a character's brand new spouse, dragged along on this trip down memory lane -- you never feel like any more than a tourist in these people's lives.