Review by Brendan McCall
Pooling to Paradise (film)
Written & Produced by Caytha Jentis
Directed by Roxy Shih
Back in March, I wrote a positive review for the online reading of Pooling to Paradise by Caytha Jentis (if interested, you can read that piece here). Perhaps best known to audiences for her work on the comedic television series The Other F Word, Jentis teams up with talented emerging director Roxy Shih to present the film version of her story about four characters taking a literal and metaphysical road-trip to Paradise.
While the original cast of Jentis´ reading were strong, this new cast is even better. While ostensibly a buddy movie, Pooling centers primarily on the conflicted Jenny, a former award-winning news correspondent turned “Mommy blogger”. The superb Lynn Chen perfectly embodies each of Jenny´s contradictory characteristics–sarcasm and ingratitude, vulnerability and regret–resulting in an exceptional performance. Playwright John Guare once told me that the measure of a brilliant acting performance is what you do when you are not speaking, that these are often the moments the audience takes with them long after the show is complete. Thankfully for us, Chen takes many beautiful and bold risks in Pooling that pay off, in addition to effortlessly capturing both the hilarity and the pathos in the lines Jentis has written for her.
Running late to LAX to catch a flight to Vegas for a bloggers´ conference, Jenny is the first passenger in an Uber driven by Marc, played with wonderful comedic timing by Jordan Carlos. Like Chen, Carlos fulfills his faux-shaman role exquisitely, a guide who can quote Robert Frost as well as The Matrix without missing a beat. The intelligently quick edits by Susan B. Ades only adds to the humor embedded in Jentis´ script, as does the contrast of Michael Spivak´s ambient sound score to Jenny´s frustrated attempts to make her flight.
Due to a gaffe with the ride-share app, though, Jenny´s trip to the airport is even further delayed by the laid-back driver-slash-philosopher Marc picking up two additional passengers: Kara, a former medical researcher turned frustrated actress played with sparkle and sensitivity by Dreama Walker; and the heartbroken talent agent Sean, played with mixed results by the uneven Jonathan Lipnicki.
The bulk of the movie is spent on the road with these four characters, as they decide to drive to Paradise, Nevada–initially to help Sean resolve his broken relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Dawn (Taryn Manning, in a cameo role), but ultimately each is on their own vision quest. The narrative arc bears similarities to John Hughes´ iconic 1985 film The Breakfast Club, where people who normally would not mix discover common ground and connect. And while most of the action occurs in the car, Jih-E Peng´s rich cinematography really brings out the vibrant colors of their sandy odyssey. The choice to have the recollected scene of Sean & Dawn´s first meeting be an animated sequence, thanks to the artistic talent of Fletcher Del Vecchio, was an inventive touch.
When Jentis gets her characters to Paradise, however, the film seems to lose confidence, its ending seeming to tie up the loose ends as rapidly as possible. Sean and Dawn´s reconciliation scene on her doorstep is meant to be climactic, but instead of juggling snarky wit with emotional intimacy like so much of Pooling´s first 80%, the scene ends up feeling wooden, confused. Almost immediately afterwards, the five hour drive back to Los Angeles is wrapped up in a mere couple of minutes, with no opportunity for us to enjoy the passage of time after their journey is complete. What happens to Kara, for example? Does she return to Los Angeles to continue pursuing acting, or does she get closer to Sean, or does she finally let go of being reliant upon her mother for financial (and emotional) support? These possibilities are intimated, yet not resolved.
Pooling to Paradise does conclude with a poignant scene featuring Chen, wiser and more real, sharing publicly a bit of what she learned about herself out in the desert. There´s also a touching coda between Marc and his Spanish-speaking mother at home. Jentis instincts for her characters are spot on, and I hope there’s an opportunity to experience just a little more time with Jenny, Marc, Kara, and Sean. The trip to paradise is excellent; I just wish we had had just a little more time after each of them had returned.