ECHO PARK (2014)
Directed by: Amanda Marsalis
Written by: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
Starring: Mamie Gummer, Anthony Okungbowa, Maurice Compte, Ricky Rico, Helen Slater, Gale Harold

We’ve all thought of moments left unlived. You know, where we drift off and imagine living elsewhere – like in a dream-like bubble where happiness is valued above all, where “follow your bliss” is gospel and escapism is key. But not many of you actually take the plunge and live out your dreams in real life. That’s where director Amanda Marsalis’ ECHO PARK begins.

Sophie (Mamie Gummer) is a rich, WASPy twenty-something who’s feeling bored with her life – what with the endless uptight cocktail parties and the insufferable personalities who populate them. Rather abruptly (somewhere during the opening credits, I suppose), she uproots her life and moves all the way across town to Los Angeles’ hipster enclave, Echo Park. Her life magically changes upon answering an ad to buy a couch when she meets Alex (Anthony Okungbowa, who’s best known for being ELLEN’s DJ Tony), a jingle writer who’s moving to London in two weeks. Theirs is a sweet, pure relationship that blossoms quickly. But all isn’t bliss as Sophie’s past – in the form of her harried mom (Helen Slater, doing her best Sally Field impression) and her smug, narcissist ex Simon (Gale Harold) – returns to haunt her.

Much like the neighborhood it stands to immortalize, ECHO PARK has a sweet sincerity with a relaxed, embraceable vibe. Marsalis’ beautiful lens, working in tandem with Jason McCormick’s ethereal cinematography, captures the area elegantly. Marsalis’ style is akin to Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE and LOST IN TRANSLATION, but without any pretentious meandering. She’s got a refreshing vision and voice that I’d like to see more of in the future. Music, culled by music supervisor Simone Rubi, is integral to this film as well; it helps get a flavor of the city and also acts as a siren call for Alex and his best friend Mateo (Maurice Compte). Christopher H. Knight’s smoothed out electro-pop score – similar to that of an upscale Pan-Asian bistro during happy hour – complements and augments the narrative. Around act two, it actually surpasses the rudimentary plotline. Traditionally-speaking, audiences aren’t really even supposed to notice the score, but the fact we do here shouldn’t be considered a weakness.

Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep) is incandescent – think an approachable version of Gwyneth Paltrow. Though her performance is enchantment incarnate, her character wasn’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Besides oscillating between two male goalposts, what’s her motor? What’s her agency? She’s got a job as a hipster handbag designer (which I presume is both vegan leather – a.k.a. plastic – and sold at a huge mark-up), but she seems to spend a majority of her time fretting about men, and not her own personal journey towards happiness. Romdramy predictabilities set in with Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s script, where the main dramatic conflict is whether or not Alex will stay in LA or leave for London. Their “excuse” to not be together is a little flimsy, even by romdramcom standards – LIKE CRAZY and THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT are prime examples of this maddening contrivance. If they want to be together, be together! Another unfortunate strike against it is that despite being written by and directed by females, this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Sophie almost exclusively discusses men with her overbearing, off-color mother and the new next-door neighbor.

While some elements seem very film school-y, there are also a few unexpected surprises in this film. Though I don’t think it  will take the world by storm, I do think the director and her resplendent star should work together again on something more cohesive.

 3 out of 5

ECHO PARK played LA Film Fest on June 14 and 17.