I kicked off the last night of the Newport Beach Film Festival with a really offbeat piece of work. Doppelganger Paul (Or a Film about How Much I Hate Myself), to borrow a descriptor from one of my favorite NBFF programmers, is a sardonic, strange, occasionally humorous, and fairly introspective film that plays like an alternative type of buddy movie. It revolves around events that bring two very different people together in an effort to confront some of the issues they have and share, given that they would appear to despise themselves. Very much fitting the bill of an independent feature, it is the way the film’s moody sense of humor carries over with the players involved, which makes this somewhat slow film worthy of an open-minded viewing.
The film begins interestingly enough, with Karl (Tygh Runyan) delivering a note to Paul (Brad Dryborough), with information regarding what Karl has been doing. Karl has been following Paul from a distance, believing him to be his doppelganger, the mirror image of himself. This letter exchange was anonymous, which leads to Paul responding by leaving a note in the same spot where he first received his. Despite initial confusion and hostility, Paul is intrigued enough to eventually meet up with Karl.
Upon meeting up with one another, (aside from the humorous realization that neither of these people really resemble each other) a bizarre chain of events begins to occur, which revolves around these two forming a strange sort of bond, as they deal with a new path for them to take. This path leads to the divulging and releasing of Karl’s manuscript to the public, a piece of work that was 25 years in the making. The issue here is that the manuscript was not released by Karl or Paul, but a random, separate party, after having been edited down into something much different than Karl’s intention, given that he was detailing why he hates himself. As a result, Karl and Paul set out on a journey together to confront the issues they are facing, be it related to the lack of credit for the work that has been published or on a level of self-revelation.
Given the nature of the majority of films I have been seeing at the Newport Beach Film Festival, I was pleased to see something different. Doppelganger Paul very much operates on the level of an offbeat, independent feature; complete with quirky characters, an inherent strangeness in where the story takes the viewer, and an improvisational tone to how scenes play out. This film revels in being a lot of the things that either brings in or distances people from these types of art house films, but I never found myself thinking that the movie was being strange and different just for the sake of being that way.
I was intrigued by where this story was going and it was mainly due to the approach to these characters and how they attempted to embody the second part of the title of the film. Given that Karl and Paul are guys who apparently are displeased by so much about themselves, the fact that I was able to see humor and various positive aspects in them kept a certain flow of the film alive. I would not necessarily bill this film as a straight up comedy, but it is a human comedy that gets away with being somewhat mordant, due to the fact that I liked watching these people.
Both Runyan and Dryborough made for interesting characters, with Drborough’s Paul bringing a sort of nervous intensity, while Runyan gets away with all of his oddities based around his dryly humorous delivery of a great majority of his lines. It becomes very interesting to see where these characters end up as the film goes on, given how the act shifts have a pretty particular way of breaking the film up into specific parts. It is also worth noting the two supporting performances from Ben Cotton and Matty Finochio, who serve as the characters who claim false credit over Karl’s manuscript. Their scenes mostly served as comedic divergences from the main narrative, but they brought a fun, broader sort of feel to a film that was spending most of its time in such a detached state, despite being a weird kind of enjoyable.
There are a few different themes explored in this film by directors Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand (who also scripted the film). I would be very intrigued to learn more about what went on in the development of the feature. The concept of questioning the state of one’s identity (let alone the various odd touches further applied to the film) easily brought to mind people like Charlie Kauffman and Michel Gondry, despite the less pronounced style seen in ‘Paul’. There is a notion that made me want to question more about how this film develops however. While enjoyable for a variety of reasons, it does move at a fairly slow pace for an 84-minute film. Certain scenes are easily more enjoyable or fascinating to watch, but I get curious as to how the editing process was in sorting out the overall arc of the film (which, I guess, is similar to how Karl’s manuscript gets pared down in the film). Gathering a film together out of what seems to be an exploration of a particular motif, with humorous intentions, must certainly have been a challenge, just not a completely sound one.
Doppelganger Paul was an interesting change in pace for my Newport Beach Film Festival viewing experience. Definitely sitting firmly in the realm of obscure indie films, there may be certain people who don’t quite have the acquired taste to really get into this film, but being open-minded has certainly held up for me in the past, just like it has here. It is a different sort of film, but the premise goes into interesting and amusing territory and I had a good time.
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Check out the trailer for Doppelganger Paul: