By the time the credits roll in the indie something-or-another “Write When You Get Work,” Robert Elswit‘s name pops up.
Yes, the Robert Elswit. The Oscar-winning cinematographer behind “There Will Be Blood” and “Michael Clayton” has lent his talents to two out-of-left-field movies in 2018: Dwayne Johnson’s flat blockbuster “Skyscraper” and this random indie movie about a rekindled romance and an attempted con job set against the backdrop of the New York private school scene starring Finn Wittrock, Rachel Keller, and Emily Mortimer.
If anything, his involvement here just goes to show how important good lensing is on a movie. For better or worse, this is the movie we have for one of the generational talents in cinematography shooting on 16mm film. “Write When You Get Work” takes an uptick in quality just for how good it looks; the shots frame its characters and setting far better than the movie does.
This project marks the return of ’90s small-budget writer and director Stacy Cochran (known primarily for Indie Spirit nominee “My New Gun” and her other Elswit collab “Boys“). What’s here is a film that wants to all at once be about a lot and about nothing, really. It’s basically if you took the Tina Fey comedy “Admission” and threw in a light romantic crime caper by Dido Montiel. It’s a film that wants to be matter-of-fact, but also so abstract, you nearly do a cartwheel trying to figure out exactly what it’s trying to say.
‘Write’ feels like a movie one of those Miramax competitors would’ve put in theaters sometime around April 1998 to counter any other random indie film trying to convince moviegoers that it’s the next big thing to come out of Sundance. The movie probably would’ve played better a long time ago, when people were so enamored with American independent movies just kind of hanging out in a big city and loosely threading together whatever plot it felt like doing at the time with actors they were excited to meet.
Wittrock (who was quite good in “The Big Short“) centers it all along with Keller (of “Legion” fame) and Mortimer. These three characters don’t really fit at all together, despite the story continuing to put them in the same space and giving them a reason for interacting. They’re in seemingly different movies, doing completely different things, and yet they’re crammed in the same dull story.
Wittrock does have this hook to his performance. At times, he’s just kind of afloat with the plot, but then, in random moments, he really starts to rub his socks against the carpet and get some sparks. Mortimer is also a gem in whatever she does, and gives her character much more than is warranted. Keller feels a little out of place, but she’s good nonetheless.
Though this film just kind of happens without a lot of pomp or circumstance, the free-flowing nature makes it somewhat watchable. ‘Write’ is not a bad project, just an uneventful one. The film gets in a good nose-thumbing at the upper crust, and reaffirms that love does what it will. But like so many of those movies that flooded multiplexes after the indie revolution, this one just kind of meanders around a template put to better use by better movies a while back. Its heart is in the right place, but its focus could use more investment. [C-]