Film Review: The Misguided

Multi-hyphenate Shannon Alexander’s comedy-drama prefers fairly uninvolving romantic drama over fully investing in its comedic characters.
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A first-time filmmaker who titles his debut The Misguided is certainly leaving himself wide open to some pretty low-hanging critical wordplay, especially when, like Shannon Alexander, he’s taken on a Herculean workload by singlehandedly producing, writing, directing, editing and shooting said film. So it comes as some relief to report that this indie Aussie comedy-drama about the fraught relations between two mismatched pairs of siblings doesn’t entirely live up to (or is that down to…?) its admonitory title, even if the featherweight narrative ultimately favors a fairly uninvolving central romance over the potential to develop some richly comedic characterizations.

The film introduces us to Levi (Caleb Galati) and Wendel (Steven J. Mihaljevich) when Levi arrives on his older brother’s doorstep one night after his girlfriend tosses him out—rather violently, too, judging from the bruises on his face and neck. Wendel proves to be quite the character: a bisexual wannabe drug dealer with dreams of one day opening up his own hair salon. Levi mostly functions as the not altogether willing recipient of dubious fraternal advice from Wendel, along the lines of “Thinking gives you cancer!” It soon develops that Wendel has taken possession of a car belonging to his ex-girlfriend Sanja (Jasmine Nibali) via means that can charitably be termed extralegal. When Sanja and her sister Vesna (Katherine Langford) show up to get it back, a fumbling, lopsided relationship between Sanja and Levi begins to blossom.

The Misguided subsequently ping-pongs between the course of Sanja and Levi’s true love, which never does run smooth, and a subplot involving Wendel’s failure to repay a sizeable loan from his drug connection-cum-best bud, Jason (Clay Foster). The romance gives Alexander the opportunity to fold in some travelogue footage of Perth, a sprawling metropolis from which the couple hope to escape, primarily, it seems, owing to the overall lousiness of the public transportation system. (Perhaps this is meant as a self-deprecating cosmopolitan joke.) Wendel’s plight, on the other hand, leads to some ironically inept plotting on the part of the brothers. The way Alexander finally defuses this central dilemma works wonderfully as harebrained comedy, but tends to undermine whatever dramatic momentum the film has managed to build up.

Mihaljevich is a strong comedic performer, and as the film unfolds it becomes  increasingly apparent that Alexander might have placed more emphasis on developing Wendel and his milieu beyond the relatively by-the-numbers situations into which the filmmaker thrusts the character. Likewise, Athan Bellos (a dead ringer for the British actor Mark Strong) makes the most of his few scenes as Sanja’s father Viktor, whether it’s throttling Sanja’s new suitor to within an inch of his life, or offering paternal pronouncements like “Keep your legs shut and your door open, not the other way round!” Langford, highly touted in the film’s publicity materials owing to her recent Golden Globe nomination, only features in a couple of scenes, acting mostly as resident instigator and narrative prod.

When it comes to the film’s direction and cinematography, Alexander acquits himself reasonably well, though some of his efforts to punch up the visual style are a bit distracting, as with a couple of seemingly unmotivated camera movements—a bit of wobble, an odd upward tilt—that remain inexplicable. There are also a few instances of unnecessary filler: shots of Langford listlessly swimming laps in the family pool, a bit on a beach where waves crash over the camera (granted, it’s an impressive shot, technically speaking). These minor lapses are, however, fairly commensurate with those made by many first-time filmmakers.

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