Cash for Lamar arts
When the bell rings, it doesn't take long before the hallways of a run-of-the-mill Texas high school overcrowd with cliques of students coming and going. Surrounded by friends and engulfed by noise, senior Noah Greene wants to stand out but can't help being swallowed by the raucous backdrop. His shoulders shrug forward, his gaze lowers, his back hunches down.
Pressed in between countless acquaintances, Greene retreats in introspective isolation.
It took a week for 30-year-old actor Josh Danziger to re-empathize with ordinary life in a rural suburb. In developing the character of Noah Greene in Apart — premiered at SXSW in 2010 and opening in movie theaters in Houston and New York City Friday — Danziger went to classes at Foster High School, a short distance from his alma mater, Lamar High School in Richmond, where he took on his first leading role as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
Living as Noah typifies Danziger's commitment to be the character. For his film big debut alongside first-time director Aaron Rottinghaus, he found inspiration in the town that propelled his acting career.
"You don't need an amazing camera, a $10-million budget, elaborate sets or huge credits."
Richmond/Rosenberg locals made it happen
Despite the commercial and residential growth, the Richmond/Rosenberg area retains much of what Danziger treasured: Great people willing to do anything to help friends and family. When the crew of Apart approached community leaders for access to property and permission to shoot, the answer was yes and for little or no cost.
"Los Angeles, where film is an everyday thing, is great but can be a bit jaded," Danziger says. "In Richmond, everyone from the fire department to the police to the high school principal wanted us to succeed."
All and all, 26 intense jammed-packed days in a five-mile radius, four days in L.A. to capture scenes with heavyweight Bruce McGill, and lots of donuts in between.
There are clues that set Apart in its geographical setting: Be that school uniforms or a hazy poster in a bathroom wall. But the film isn't about Richmond or Rosenberg. It can transpire in any Midwest residential suburb somewhat removed from urban development, where high school and football reign king.
To show appreciation, 100 percent of the proceeds from Houston's opening weekend (March 9-10) will be donated to Lamar Consolidated Independent School District's fine arts departments. Danziger and Olesya Rulin, who plays Emily Gates, have been hitting the pavement and visiting area schools, engaging with the faculty, administration and students.
Some even remembered Danziger's stint from three years prior.
There are no good guys or bad guys. There are people with good intentions trying to make the best of the situation at hand.
"I want students to know they can make this happen," Rulin tells CultureMap.
Capriciously dressed with a soupçon of Goth nail polish, muted makeup and a cabaret hat, the High School Musical star hasn't left behind her humble Russian roots. Amid stories of skinny dipping and sun bathing au naturel with the ladies in her agrarian hometown of Likhoslavl, Russia, chatting with the 26-year-old was just like opening a box of chocolates.
"You don't need an amazing camera, a $10-million budget, elaborate sets or huge credits," Rulin says. "You can make wonderful films right here in your back yard, if you are motivated and inspired to do so."
It may be a shoestring-budget indie motion picture with its share of firsts, but nothing about the production values smells of pennies and dimes. Expect Hollywood-style cinematography, wicked direction, bone-chilling acting, natural sets, effective music, natural styling and most importantly, compelling content.
Above all the twists, turns, trials and tribulations, Apart is a love story without a happily-ever-after High School Musical fairytale ending.
Folie à deux: A madness shared by two
If Apart nods to a typical flashback script like The Hangover, The Bourne Trilogy with a dash of While You Were Sleeping, it's because this storyline unfolds in a similar manner, but with a much cryptic tenor: The psychological drama-cum-thriller ensues from a blank slate for both protagonist and viewer. But unlike these other films, Apart journeys into an unsettling milieu unexplored by and unknown to many.
Whispers, innuendos and red herrings suggest a reality that with limited context, we are set up to misinterpret.
And that's a thespian trompe l'oeil lesson Rottinghaus surely intended. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are people with good intentions trying to make the best of the situation at hand. So who's the culprit?
The characters have a choice: To stay or walk away. It's a powerful moment.
Hint: ICD-10 F24 or induced delusional disorder. The only known cure? (Spoiler alert) Separation, but you really knew that from the title.
Leave it to the French to coin a term that describes two people who can incite and share psychosis. The film's premise may focus on the strange psychiatric condition as the catalyst of crisis. But folie à deux is merely the pretext, the Romeo and Juliet complex, that frames larger themes of reconstruction, relationships, perception, truth and identity.
Is your own provenance of importance? Will truth hurt you or set you free? Can you ever forget or runaway from your past?
Incarnating psychosomatic turmoil is where Rulin and Danziger transcend, sketching a complex relationship so real it hurts. We empathize, though we don't understand. When an intimate dance sequence lingers on, we are forced to intrude on their only real moment free of delusion. It's uncomfortable but necessary.
There's no question Rottinghaus was compelled to resolve the plot, even with many opportunities to satisfyingly and inconclusively circle back.
"Aaron wanted that ending from the beginning," Danziger explains. "The characters have a choice: To stay or walk away. It's a powerful moment."
Rottinghaus did leave one detail up to speculation: Noah's last words to Emily. So I asked Rulin her thoughts.
"Not only are you loved, you will be loved," Rulin fills in the blanks. "Her number one insecurity is that she's not lovable. Noah wants her to know she will have love in her life even though its not him. We will all find that."
I suppose that in the grand scheme, that's a Hollywood ending. Apart is a film you'll want to see more than once just to unearth how all puzzle pieces fit together.
Apart opens in New York and Houston with limited engagement Friday through March 15 at Sundance Cinemas. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from Houston ticket sales during opening weekend will benefit Lamar CISD's fine arts department. Apart is also now available digitally via Netflix, iTunes and On Demand.