BESIDE YOU' IS FUN FAMILY FARE
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
"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
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.