Aspiring to seek a job in Boston as an on-air news anchor or on-air meteorologist, JR needs first to collect her handful of things from the home of Professor Neil Chadwick (Bob Byington), her ex-lover and broadcast journalism professor. Their brief encounter shows that, though older, Chadwick fits right in with the approach to human interaction as hateful, smug combat. Conversation has often been called a lost art, but in The Color Wheel it’s closer to nails on the blackboard.
Later in the story, thinking she may make a valuable connection, JR browbeats Colin into attending a party with high school friends. It becomes an event as contentious, even annoying, as other episodes in the stop-and-go trip. Without revealing any crucial details, I must add that the final scenes feel awkwardly manufactured to offer some unearned measure of resolution.
Throughout the road trip, Colin incessantly whines about JR’s unpleasant personality as she and he bicker about the most trivial aspects of life. Of course the smallest detail sometimes infuriates the most, but here no compelling insight lifts such moments to a rewarding level of humor or wit. Shot by Sean Price Williams on black-and-white, 16-millimeter film, the grainy appearance does convey a cinema verité quality. But with minimal editing to close-ups or shot reverse-shot compositions, the film foregrounds and relies on the dialogue, which seldom rises to the level of compelling drama. The entire endeavor smacks more of annoying, black-and-white home movies featuring two narcissistic, sophomoric individuals lacking perspective.
Fading to black between vignettes, the story moves forward in fits and starts with little coherence beyond JR and Colin as the anchors. Colin, director Alex Ross Perry, delivers his lines monosyllabically and behaves as if he’s reluctant to show any emotion. The volatile JR, co-writer Carlen Altman, has more energy but minimal appeal. I hasten to add that these characters are clearly consistent throughout the story and, therefore, as Perry and Altman conceived them. They are certainly no less contrived than other film characters. In fact, they’re more real than many, but if we avoid such unpleasant people in real life, is it any easier to embrace them in a film? Do we long for some feeling of superiority, do we enjoy some degree of mockery that makes this entertaining? Not for me.
The St. Louis premiere of The Color Wheel is at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8th through Monday, June 11th. For more information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or you may go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.