Two depressed misfits with big dreams find some solace in a fleeting connection in Katharine Emmer’s affecting “Life in Color,” which she also wrote and starred in (among other duties, as per the indie filmmaking process). Emmer stars as Mary, a dour and depressed L.A. nanny, whose life is turned upside down when she shares a fateful toke with birthday clown Homer (Josh McDermitt) during one of her charges’ birthday parties. It’s quite the unconventional meet-cute, and doesn’t initially reveal itself as such until much later.
Wracked with guilt over her pot-induced firing, Homer offers her a place to stay, an offer which Mary has to reluctantly take. She’s clearly struggling, with no family or friends to turn to, and the situation forces her into the uncomfortable position of having to crash with a stranger while she searches for a job. The relationship with Homer is strained from the beginning, with Mary claiming he owes her the money from the job she lost. As they are forced into increasingly dire financial straits, and have no hope of finding jobs, the two have to forge a bond, as it turns out they have no choice but to rely on each other.
Homer’s an aspiring comedian, who hasn’t done much, selling himself short and letting his successful friend Adam walk all over him. Mary pushes him to enter Adam’s stand up competition, if only to win some money. She pesters him, and Adam, but as the two needle each other, digging at the soft spots in annoyance, they are drawn out of their cocoons of isolation, whether they want to or not. Their connection is solidified during a weekend away for one of Mary’s new nannying gigs, but old habits die hard, getting in the way of something good.
Emmer and McDermitt, as Mary and Homer, have an offbeat chemistry that works because they vibrate on the same frequency in their performances. At first, because their characters are in such funks, the energy is downbeat, but it authentically expresses the inner world of these characters, who have found themselves in a rut, depressed, desperate and languishing.
McDermitt shows a tremendous control over the transition of his character, slowly peeling away Homer’s sloppy couch potato layers to reveal a truly soulful leading man. As a filmmaker, both in directing and performing, Emmer demonstrates a measured and assured hand, over the tone of the film, which is infused with a truly funny, sneaky, and dry as a bone sense of humor. Supporting performers Adam Lustick and Fortune Feimster offer a breath of fresh air and jolt of unique energy that livens up the dynamic between Homer and Mary.
The slow build to the end is decidedly earned and satisfying, and for two sarcastic losers as we’ve come to know the characters, it is surprisingly heartfelt and touching. “Life in Color” showcases both Emmer and McDermitt’s talents in roles that are unconventional leads, their salty, though eventually sweet demeanors are a much-needed counterpart to traditional archetypes. Much of the film works because of their performances, though “Life in Color” also signals Emmer as a writer and filmmaker to watch, as the script and direction show a strong sense of voice, and control over a difficult dark comedic tone. “Life in Color” is an idiosyncratic, emotionally rich and satisfying dramedy that manages, in many ways, to exceed its own scope. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2015 SXSW Film Festival. The film is now available on Amazon and iTunes.