Bradley Hawkins’ directorial debut "Roller Coaster" is a breath of comedic fresh air from the world of independent film making. Starring Hawkins’ daughter Sarah as the aspiring actress Emily Chadwick, the comedic film is spun straight out of their own experiences as actors.
"Roller Coaster" recently brought home five awards from the IndieFEST film awards, winning in the categories of film short, music score, sound editing and mixing, direction and editing. Five well deserved awards.
The short film follows Chadwick on the day of an audition as she encounters various obstacles while navigating the domestic environment, the Los Angeles cityscape and ultimately the world of auditions.
Here art imitates life as Hawkins, a former Lebanon High School teacher, dramatizes his daughter’s experience with a particularly turbulent trip to an audition in LA, as well as his own experiences as an actor working and residing in LA.
The film opens with what seems like an ominous flashback to an amusement park ride, a scene that recurs throughout the film. The flashes highlight various narrative moments, and work to simultaneously create and reinforce the roller coaster metaphor.
Chadwick is then shown in bed, in close-up, before being woken by her 7:30 alarm. This moment is the only point of stasis in the film as the young actress begins to encounter endless challenges to her budding career, beginning with oversleeping, car problems, traffic and more.
Hawkins plays the role magnificently, as she responds to each situation with well-delivered exaggeration of emotion and action before collecting herself and determining a realistic solution; her acting style is the first of the work’s elemental resemblances to the era of silent comedy, which featured the exaggerated style of stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Her delivery is charming and engaging, and the style works flawlessly, constructing a convincing personality from a character without the use of dialogue and turning blunders into crises with comedic effect.
The editing of "Roller Coaster" is anything but static, seamlessly treating the viewer to quick cuts and longer scenes in addition to a variety of shots. Jim Casella’s score works in a similar way, subtly influencing and enhancing the action in a way that never overstates itself.
Throughout "Roller Coaster," Hawkins creates a number of anonymous characters who act as recognizable caricatures of Southern Californian, and to some extent American, life. From flighty, made-up young women with rich, older male companions and lap dogs to laid-back Uber drivers with a penchant for reggae, these characters rely on their role as caricatures for definition and ultimately lack fleshed out personalities, due in part to the brevity of the film and the near absence of dialogue.
This absence of dialogue, however, serves to increase the importance of what little speech there is. The viewer is prompted to focus on these snippets when they appear, highlighting certain narrative elements in the film. The technique also functions as a nod to comedy in the silent film era, as does the film’s use of slightly exaggerated acting style and humorous, quick problem-driven plot development.
Full of as many twists and turns as its namesake implies, "Roller Coaster" comes at last to a witty, satisfying and unforeseen conclusion. Far from feeling old hat, the film delivers a modern, relevant and aural take on classic silent comedy style, updating it with flashes of sound and a quirky score, and offers a bright perspective on what can be achieved by a dedicated indie filmmaker.