“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” – Charles M. Schulz
Let’s face it, unrequited love is a real son-of-a-bitch! It’s like being stabbed in the heart with a dagger, made of pure love and emotion, all the way to the hilt and broken off in your chest…or something like that. It may be different for some, but I digress.
James is an unorthodox young man, who takes care of his loony old grandmother. He also likes photography and hanging out in the cemetery, while sometimes singing little ditties about a “cheesecake of love”. He’s also a young man who fully understands the aforementioned concept of unrequited love, because he too is afflicted. The object of his desires is a beautiful young woman named Jane. And while James hasn’t directly expressed this to her, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Jane is privy to his feelings for her or how deeply said feelings run. However, her father Dale is completely aware of James’ feelings and he absolutely does NOT approve. Dale even goes so far as to have a family friend try to put a damper on James’ continually obsessive behavior.
What one man may call adoring his lady fair from afar, another man may refer to as STALKING. Dale takes great exception to James’ unhealthy infatuation with his daughter, and thus plans to dish out reprisals to this love-struck Romeo.
Romeo’s Distress was made on a micro budget ($2,553) with a skeleton crew, and still this movie is incredibly well made. This film was obviously a passion project for Jeff Frumess. He not only wrote and directed the film, but he was also the production designer, cinematographer and the editor. Frumess had a vision and he obviously was not going to compromise it, and this film is all the better for it. With the exception of some silly and saccharine dream/fantasy sequences, the entire film is shot in black and white. And while black and white is very forgiving, the contrasty look also adds to the stark visual and textural appeal. Its’ very reminiscent in that respect to indies Like Clerks (Kevin Smith), Pi (Darren Aronofsky) , Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch) and Eraser Head (David Lynch). His camera work and editing also help to advance the narrative, and never lets it become languid or stale.
The story overall is not really scary, but it is somehow (dare I say?) gleefully morose. It weaves its way along a path that is absurd and very entertaining, to an intense final sequence of events. It brings to mind the bizarre and quirky nature of a John Waters film. So much so, that any member of Waters’ roster of usual suspects could easily be plugged into the narrative. On the other hand the tone and subject matter could also seem like the logical result of Edgar Allan Poe writing a contemporary dark romantic comedy.
The performances in this film were quite impressive. Anthony Malchar , as James Ferrose, deftly creates an awkward and pitiable character, who is also obviously somewhat mentally unbalanced. His perceived connection to the object of his desire is fueled by equal parts of delusion and obstinacy. As Dale Matthews, Jeffrey Solomon’s demeanor is steely and ominous as he seeks to exact tortuous retribution against James. Adam Stordy also turned in a great performance as Bobby Samson, a bellicose bully whose sole intent is to discourage James’ obsessiveness with extreme prejudice. Frumess’ grandmother (whose name I couldn’t find in the credits) added creepy and cooky performance to the mix, as James’ grandmother. And although Kimberely A. Peterson, as Jane Matthews, was sparingly featured, she served as an important point of focus in trying to understand James’ infatuation.
As much as I liked this movie, I also realized it may be an acquired taste. It’s an unconventional love story with a maudlin nuances. Frumess knew the story he wanted to tell and did it with artistic mastery and for a ridiculously low budget. He serves as a perfect example that a filmmaker can work within their means and still create a great film. Another thing I learned is that I have a new appreciation for carrots, but I will NEVER look at a cantaloupe the same way again. Hmmm, now I have a strange craving for cheese puffs…anyway. For those out there that love quirky indie films and also those looking for a good reason to stray from their cinematic comfort zone, Romeo’s Distress is a film that deserves your attention. Mr. Frumess…well done! 8 / 10