A methodical and thoughtful film that provides food for thought but will be too slow for most audiences
“The Big Shot Caller” is Marlene Rhein’s directing debut, David and Marlene Rhein’s acting debut and one of a handful of credits for emerging actress Laneya Wiles. Having said that the film is as fresh and heartfelt as they come, although it will have a hard time attracting audiences.
Lonely outsider Jamie is doing well enough. He is a successful young accountant working in Manhattan and has pulled his act together in spite of the loss of his mother and the ungainly attempts at macho affection of his father. In fact, Jamie was closer to his grandfather than either of his parents and his grandfather was a champion salsa dancer, thrilling crowds to tears with his sensuous moves and his charismatic personality.
Jamie is exactly the opposite. He possesses all the skills, intelligence and passion of his grandfather but lacks the critical self-confidence to open himself to the public. Adding to the burden of his emotional losses, Jamie is extremely nearsighted. With special glasses he can work a normal job but he will forever be chained to an indelibly nerdy first impression. Although the film fails to make this an extremely enthralling situation, actor David Rhein does a great job with the part. In real life he is an expert salsa dancer and vibrant enthusiast of the art form as well as a degreed MBA in International Finance. A possible career in film was squelched by his very real eye condition (Anaridia with Congenital Nystagmus), which not only causes poor vision but a disconcerting wobbling or vibrating of the eyes.
So the polar opposites of dancing and accounting form a good matrix of possibilities for Jamie. The position of accountant apparently works fine as the eye condition can be almost completely controlled within the limited requirements of the paper and computer screen. The precision of the mind is foremost. But the security itself of such a position cements the loneliness of the person firmly into place. Salsa dancing provides the social contact but also provides a steady stream of romantic and interpersonal failures as Jamie’s eyes react spasmodically under the slightest social stress.
In desperation Jamie reaches out to his estranged sister Lianne (Marlene Rhein) who was driven from the household by the club fisted machismo of her emotionally crippled father. Swearing she will never talk to the man again she is contacted and brought back into the family only partially and with great difficulty by the pain wracked Jamie. Superficially he needs Lianne to be his dance partner now that he has determined to conquer the world of expert salsa. But what he really needs is the emotional connection to his family. He needs to be the father figure vacated when his grandfather died. He needs to be the person who rescues the family.
DP Paolo Cascio allows the depersonalized streets, rooms and offices of New York to become one with the mixed emotions of the protagonists. The average dance film aficionado will expect this plot to result in some spectacular dance feat where Jamie becomes an instant celebrity over night, saves his family and finds self-validation in a triumphant climax. Thankfully, writer/director doesn’t take us to that exploitative ending. The conclusion of the story is one of slow and gradual self-acceptance and the hope that a family might move on from serious emotional damage. In the background is the joy, therapy and meditation of physical movement; the coupling of the healthy body with the healthy mind.
A good film but one that will be too slow and inconclusive for most audiences. The street shots are plain and normal which is a legitimate personalization of plain and normal life but not the stuff of entertainment. Although the story offers hope for the reconciliation of the pain in us all it does not offer any new universal truths. In the end the salsa dancing is not a convincing remedy.
Directed and Written by: Marlene Rhein
Starring: David Rhein and Marlene Rhein
Release: May 15, 2009
MPAA: Rated R for graphic nudity and some language
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: Spanish/English with English sub-titles