By Ryan McPherson
We all know the feeling. That panic that sets in when you realize you have forgotten something you need somewhere else. Worse, when you know you won’t be able to retrieve it for a couple of days. Worst, when it’s something you shouldn’t have had in the first place.
Andrew (Jeremy Keys), calls his friend TJ (Lior Wolf) for help, after he’s mistakenly left his backpack full of “books” at school over the weekend. Andrew’s mother works at the school and it would have been simple enough to get her to let him in, but his “books” aren’t books at all and for some reason he isn’t allowed on the school grounds on weekends. So naturally, a Mission Impossible style recovery ensues. Aided by the daughter of the school’s custodial staff, the two scour the campus — causing trouble along the way.
“Sweet Caroline” is the latest effort from writer and director Luke d. Nowell. A noted director of commercials and music videos, “Sweet Caroline” is his first foray into short and narrative style filmmaking. It’s easy to see Nowell isn’t new to being behind a camera, as this high quality short film is an announcement to the world he’s going to do big things in the future. The visual experience is a positive one. Nowell’s shots are well executed and polished, even adding in visual effects that were both timely and comical. It’s clear Nowell is no amateur. Where the film stumbles however, is in the narrative. There is a build up about Andrew potentially having something in his backpack he doesn’t want the world to know about, but we never see it or even get a real struggle to obtain it. We get back story on why Andrew isn’t allowed in the school on weekends, but the whole explanation seems unbelievable and the offense is perhaps worthy of criminal charges, not just simple banishment. On top of it all there’s only about 1 minute of screen time for the title character Caroline, and other than gifting her name to the catchy title and giving TJ a love interest, her presence is almost entirely unnecessary.
For this film to really takeoff there needed to be a greater level of conflict or at least a feeling these two were truly at risk. As TJ and Andrew run around the school, there is no feeling of suspense or urgency. They aren’t suppose to be there, they attempted to break in, and yet there is no point where they are almost caught or find themselves in a real jam. TJ seemingly stood on a soapbox for the entirety of the film but never truly attempted to stop Andrew from anything he was determined to do. There is a minor conflict with Caroline, but it felt forced and added simply for the sake of something going wrong.
The performances from the extremely young cast were admirable, especially Keys as Andrew. Keys wears an Arsenio Hall t-shirt in the film and it’s easy to see the influences in the way he acts. At times the bunch did come across a little stiff, but one should believe it’s a product of their age and dialogue that came across as very wordy, not their overall skill.
There’s a lot of talent in the group behind “Sweet Caroline”. While the film itself falls a little flat, it’s easy to be optimistic their future efforts are going to soar. We’d love to see them get the gang back together someday for another film.
Look for “Sweet Caroline” on Vimeo when it’s released to the general public on May 10, 2016.