Press & Reviews







Vol. 7, No. 1632 - The American Reporter - July 17, 2001



by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Hollywood, Calif.

"Lying Beside You," a Valenti Vision Film. Directed, written, scored and photographed by Joe Valenti. Starring Greg Wilson, Theresa McKenna, Scott DiPalo, Wendy Gartner, Barbara Belli, Darren DeBari, Rhonda Ryder, Bob Clarke and Steven Michalkowski. Running time: 105 minutes. 2001. Non-rated. Unreleased.

HOLLYWOOD -- "Lying Beside You," a new film by independent New Jersey director Joe Valenti, is a rare thing from the industry these days: a funny, engaging romantic comedy (in black and white, no less) that contains no profanity at all.

Indeed, the only sex scene -- some back-seat, all-clothes-on petting, is the mildest in memory. It's a film that could probably play in India, where usually even the chastest kiss is prohibited by Hindu censors.

But, surprise: This is not a prudish film, or one that comes from a religious source, just fun family fare from an enterprising young multi-hyphenate whose day job is developing graphics for the MSNBC cable television channel. The film, two years in the making, took about a year to develop and a year to shoot with a professional but voluntee cast.

Shown in Beverly Hills at the Laemmle Theater on Wilshire Blvd. recently as an entry in the New York International Film Festival (why the festival shows films in Beverly Hills is a mystery), the film runs 105 minutes and follows the adventures of a young film maker whose white lies and minor distortions have landed him a $3,000 shooting budget from a local college film scholarship fund. Most of the straight-ahead plot inolves the making of the film-within-a-film, which is called "Waiting Beside You" (the inner film's plot is not relevant). Predictably, the white lies are unmasked, the guy loses the girl, and you guessed it -- the guy gets the girl back.

"Lying Beside You" was written, shot, directed and edited by Valenti on a miniscule (for Hollywood) budget of $17,000, which is more than was spent on "The Highwayman," the $9,000 Antonio Banderas movie that brought him to fame, but substantially less than the Blair Witch Project. Valenti even has a cameo as a college employee who works in the film department's equipment cage, checking out the gear.

The outer film follows the progress of the making of the inner film, from locating a script -- provided by taciturn screenwriter Freddie Peterson, in a funny turn by Steven Michalkowski) -- to a casting call for the masculine and feminine leads, to the actual shooting schedule on the New Jersey coast. The outer film has about 20 locations and eight principal actors, along with dozens of cast members in smaller roles.

The inner film's director, Jared Williams (Greg Wilson), and hip-guy sidekick Kevin Leonard (Scott DiPalo) cook up the idea of making a film to help Jared attract the romantic interest of Jessica Roberts (Theresa McKenna), a pretty, raven-haired singer who assumes his subsequent invitation to a casting call is just another pick-up line.

All three are talented, down-to-earth, normal-looking actors who might easily be overlooked in Hollywood, where too often an emphasis on appearance and physique comes at the expense of acting ability. McKenna, especially, demonstrates a singing talent (Valenti also wrote the songs and music) that deserves attention, and her two solo turns, first in a reading during the casting and later singing on a karaoke stage, reveal that the camera loves her face and All-American girl qualities).

DiPalo is also a pleasant discovery, delivering some engaging sidekickery to Wilson's romantically-challenged Jared with an authentic college-kid feel that would embarass most studio features in the genre, where most "students" look like 30-year-olds to the average moviegoer.

In fact, this low-budget feature may be a warning to Hollywood studios that talented people in the hinterlands are finding ways to craft solid projects on tiny budgets, and that their appeal to audiences may be substantial (at the New York festival showing, the house was packed and cheers erupted at the curtain).

The obvious hurdle to these folks is finding a distributor, but in today's straight-to-video marketplace, talented people like Valenti and his cast can probably prosper most of the time, particularly if they decided to work as an ensemble, Woody Allen style. But God forbid they should ever get into a movie house, because they would generate a whole new set of audience tastes and leave a lot of us sour on standard fare.

There are two other notable performances, first by Bob Clarke as Billy Richardson, a full-on Broadway star who encourages Jared both to believe in his talent and to follow his heart. The other is Barbara Belli's Jennifer Manning, the film scholarship director, who is so typically professorial it almost hurts to recall how truly painful college life can sometimes be. Darren DeBari as the inner film's cinematographer Barry Fineman leaves a lot to be desired, some of it in the script.

Valenti's direction is consistently fast-paced, and his cuts are firmly professional. His only indulgence is a sequence of a dozen flashbacks after the breakup of Jared and Jessica; they go on way too long. But Valenti also manages, in what already is a wildly original film for the genre, with a novel reunion scene involving a car chase, train tracks and the New Jersey Limited.

"Lying Beside You" is the kind of film a smart producer would let Valenti reshoot in color in a New York minute.

Copyright 2001 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.