Last weekend, I attended the Austin Film Festival, the other film festival in the young college town, and while I spent my time mostly interviewing celebrated writers David Simon (‘The Wire”), David Peoples (“Blade Runner”) and Kyle Killen (the acclaimed, yet canceled “Lone Star”) for the Wall Street Journal Online, I caught up on a couple films from the festival circuit, one of which — a low-key, no-budget, smartly scripted anti-rom-com called “New Low,” which first premiered in Sundance’s new consolation prize NEXT section — deserves special recognition.
Directed by first-timer Adam Bowers (included in Filmmaker Magazine’s list of 25 New Faces), “New Low” probably would have been better suited, in fact, to a South by Southwest premiere in March. While the movie could be lumped into the mumblecore movement by virtue of its cash-strapped aesthetic and wayward characters, Bowers comes from the school of early Woody Allen (clipped one-liners, minimalist sight gags, and sharp punchlines that come so quick you might miss them.) About a third of the way into “New Low” I thought to myself that Bowers might not be able to sustain a feature-length narrative with his stand-up comedy stylings; like so many indie comedies, was it just an over-extended sketch, or was there enough here to fill an entire movie? I’m happy to say that I kept watching with interest, surprisingly engrossed in the fate of his self-destructive, slovenly, unambitious protagonist, who is both insulting and self-deprecating at the same time (hence the “New Low” of the title).
Part of what makes the film work is Bowers’ familiarity with rom-com tropes and his fresh satire of those devices. I never thought I’d ever laugh again at a character running at the last minute to catch the love-of-his-life, but “New Low” brings the climactic moment a whole new level of absurdity. The film also uses its low budget to good cinematic effect with a number of simple static suggestive frames and one dreamy. heartfelt moment set in a dumpster that reveals Bowers actually has a deeper, sensitive side underlying his deadpan antics. (Is this a “Take the Money and Run” setting the stage for a future “Annie Hall”?)
After playing a number of film festivals “New Low” is running out of time to find a distributor. I’m sure the film will serve as a strong calling card for Bowers as he seeks representation and looks to put together future projects, but his debut is not to be overlooked.