“UP THERE” is a drama that recently had its premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival. In their first feature film, directors Daniel Weingarten and Michael Blaustein also co-wrote this script with Zoe Kanters. The story follows a journalist struggling to find the fulfilling path in his career that takes an assignment in a quiet Midwestern town. Fitting in is hard enough, let alone getting information to make an impressionable story. With no options he resorts to a quirky local resident that agrees to help him with his work if in return he gives her writing lessons. This begins an unlikely pairing that will lead to emotional connections, self-exploration, and internal discoveries neither could have predicted.
This was a film that took me on a surprisingly engaging emotional journey. It was brimming with sincerity and genuine charm that is captured through a small group of characters. People you instantly want to know more about. In a small-town setting that can easily lure the viewer in because it just feels inviting. Kanters, Blaustein and Weingarten in addition to working behind the camera to create this film, step in to fill the lead trio of roles and it was a success. There are layers to each of these characters and through the performances I was able to continually learn more about their personalities. In addition to what motivated them which created a natural intrigue as the story progresses.
Which is why I referred to this film as a journey. Because it has an ebb and flow to the emotional layers that feels down-to-earth without a theatrical vibe. It starts with a lighthearted tone that creates a charm and comfort as we meet the characters. Then as we explore them and the story our lead character Jack (Weingarten) is working on, is when the dramatic undertones begin to rise. We learn why Jack is so motivated for success. What he feels the need to prove and to whom. Emma (Kanters) the town local who helps Jack is filled with charisma and an appealing energy. But you can sense early on there is something dark at the root of her animated persona. Then enters her older brother Champ (Blaustein) who is extremely protective of her sister because of torment of his own.
All these character dynamics perfectly plant the seeds for a layered plot-line. One I felt this script did a great job of peeling back in a timely fashion to maintain a compelling interest in where things would go. Once the discovery of a tragic event in the past of Emma and Champ is revealed the elements of their personalities and why they think and act they way they do is suddenly given a deeper meaning. Which I found to be incredibly interesting. The organization of these different story angles was very smooth throughout the film to keep the interest high. With three strong performances you want to learn more about them, it provokes thought and as the emotional intensity increases so does the connection to them.
From a technical aspect this was a very capable film. The musical score was perfectly crafted to the emotional beats of the story-line. The direction was crisp but simple with camera techniques that routinely sat on the shots to let the characters carry the spot-light. There was a collection of well-crafted scenes with lengthy, unedited stretches of dialogue that hit with impact because of the intimacy the camerawork captured. It created the sense of being a fly on the wall listening to the lives of real people not actors which made this such an unassumingly gripping film. It’s loaded with drama yet does so without melodramatics. It explores the concepts of grief and self-discovery but never feels heavy-handed. It’s a story that very much feels from the heart and it translates to a movie I highly recommend seeking out to see for yourself.