Some of the best independent features start out as expanded versions of short films – made or just planned in the head of the filmmaker.
Oscar-nominee Whiplash began as a short film from director Damien Chazelle and Hill Country Film Festival alum Before I Disappear began as an Academy Award winning short film called Curfew.
Dependent’s Day, a comedy from writer/director Michael David Lynch that played at last weekend’s Hill Country Film Festival, was conceived in a similar manner. His relationship comedy sprung during the pre-production process of a short film he planned on making featuring a guy who was caught watching pornography while on a babysitting job.
After finding ideally paired actors to fill key roles in the short, Lynch decided to expand the notion into his first full length feature, Dependent’s Day.
The film opens with one of the most original premises in independent comedy in quite some time.
Alice (Benita Robledo) and Cam (Joe Burke) are visiting with their tax accountant going over their latest return when Alice – who just happens to make 10 times as much as broke actor Cam – tosses out the idea of claiming Cam as a dependent on her taxes.
Surprisingly, the accountant buys it and away we go.
Unfortunately, Dependent’s Day doesn’t match the same level of humor consistently throughout the course of the movie as the comedy often feels like a series of short films with the same cast of characters rather than a cohesive narrative.
The film has a number of well above average tent-pole spots key to the overall success of the movie – including a terrifically awkward scene where Alice’s parents unexpectedly show up for a surprise visit during a critical point in Cam and Alice’s relationship. Linking them proves problematic for the filmmakers, though the comedy highlights propel the entire film’s overall success.
It’s easy to peg Dependent’s Day as a homage to early Judd Apatow films with Lynch’s comedy reliant on sexual content to drive the movie’s most hilarious scenes. While independent films typically aren’t rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, this comedy definitely hits the same level of R-rated humor as early Apatow. But Dependent’s Day isn’t Knocked Up or The 40-Year Old Virgin.
Perhaps filming Cam and Alice’s story would have been better served as part of a web series. There’s a distinct connection to Netflix series like Master of None and Love which deal with slow burn changes in relationships and have proven to be infinitely successful.
The best parts of Dependent’s Day are when Burke and Robledo share scenes together, whether in person or on the phone. The dynamic pace of Lynch’s movie significantly suffers, however, when either actor is left alone on screen for a significant period of time. Dependent’s Day’s entire hook rests on the fantastic chemistry of its two lead actors.
As the center-point for the entire film, Burke is lovingly complex as Cam. The affable, aloof loser stereotype in comedy characters is routinely overused and overplayed, but Burke proves that when done correctly, it works wonders. Cam is a relatable character viewers can get behind because Burke – whether drawing from personal experience or not – makes Cam inherently authentic. It’s incredibly believable that somewhere bicycling around Los Angeles right now is a broke actor named Cam whose girlfriend is essentially his sugar mama. Burke’s performance validates this to the highest degree.
HCFF Best Actress winner Robledo probably doesn’t get enough credit for being the rock of Dependent’s Day, developing Alice into a character women (and a lot of guys, too) can rally behind over the course of the movie. The power within her performance isn’t so much what Robledo does verbally with the character, but in her facial expressions, which often perfectly match the expressions women in the audience give while watching Alice on screen.
With two-handers like this comedy, it’s absolutely necessary for the leads to have chemistry to make the film work. Luckily for audiences, Burke and Robledo’s on-screen chemistry is the biggest strength of the entire film.
For an indie comedy, Dependent’s Day looks really good on the big screen thanks to some quality 4K camerawork from Lynch, who also served as the film’s director of photography and editor. In limited exterior shots, Dependent’s Day still makes the city of Los Angeles an important secondary character in the film and helps give viewers a sense of place while attempting to comprehend the complexities of the character development in the film.
As first time independent films go, Dependent’s Day is a solid effort from Lynch, especially when taking into account the strong character work from Burke and Robledo. The comedic elements of the film don’t always match up with the dramatic points and a better narrative structure could have improved the overall success of the film.
But given quality performances from its lead actors, Dependent’s Day is something worth taking a chance on for fans of small, independent-minded comedy.