NBFF Reviews: Geography Club And Paris Manhattan

Paris-ManhattanCompared to my Tuesday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival, Wednesday was a much lighter affair.  While The Hunt is still my favorite film that I have seen at the festival this year, both Geography Club and Paris Manhattan were much cheerier films that I can imagine would win over many audiences.  While neither is necessarily great, I would say that there is much to enjoy in each and they served as a nice turnaround from some of the darker films that I have been watching at the festival.  Geography Club is a light high school comedy-drama about a student facing a truth that will affect his social standing.  Paris Manhattan is a French romantic comedy that would make a certain New York filmmaker proud.  Considering the breeziness of both features, it was easy enough for me to let the charm of them have an effect.

Geography Club (Movie Review)

Before I go deeper into my thoughts on Geography Club, here is the NBFF’s plot synopsis for the film:  Welcome to Goodkind High’s Geography Club.  Only it’s not what you think.  This secret society – with a name so nerdy it keeps the curious away – is actually a covert classroom refuge where a group of outcasts are about to navigate the clique-mined social terrain of the American high-school . . . and the not-so-straight-forward map to fitting in, coming out, first loves and last hopes.  The sign on the door might say Geography Club, but its members are actually exploring the perilous and sometimes hilarious landscape where sexual identity, attraction, peer pressure, parent problems and the awkwardness of Health Class all converge in a head-spinning maze.

That description more or less sets up the concept of the film, but its main concern is for Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart), a smart high school student who is struggling with the fact that he is gay.  Russell and the quarter back for the football team, Kevin (Justin Deeley), who is also secretly struggling with his feelings, end up together, only to be caught by one of the people from the Geography Club.  The plot is set in motion from there.  What I liked is that the story is very unassuming.  There are not necessarily any big surprises, but the film also does not go overboard with how the story eventually plays out, to the point of which I was quite pleased with its final moments that relied on who the characters were, as opposed to big, dramatic revelations.

Based on a novel by Brent Hartinger, written for the screen by Edmund Entin, and directed by Gary Entin; Geography Club is clearly a film from a group of early filmmakers (I did see this at a film festival, after all), but has the right kind of energy to make this movie work.  It is fun, has a number of likable characters, some of whom grew on me, and a firmly established level of drama that the filmmakers know how to achieve, without betraying the overall tone of the feature.  There are times when the weight of the story that needs to be told feels a little lighter, based on some of the better performances in the film, but I could not help but see a few moments where the film stumbles.

As Russell, Cameron Deane Stewart is likable enough to be given a pass for moments where he does not quite deliver on the dramatic scale.  Some of the issues come from us never really seeing where he’s coming from.  We do not meet his parents, whom we are told are pushing him to be a great student so he can get into Yale and are just kind of thrown into the idea of seeing him begin to act on who he really is.  Now I would not say an extra amount of time devoted to developing the character more would have necessarily helped, given the breeziness of the film, but I would say I was more able to understand the character based on my own filling of the gaps, rather than the performance of the lead actor in the film.  I would be a little harsher on the Kevin character, played by Deeley, as he definitely seemed a little wooden in spots, but let’s focus on some of the other characters.

Geography Club definitely incorporates a lot of standard characters, including the shallow girl, the bullied, shy kid, and the portly best friend, but some of these stock characters worked for me.  Andrew Caldwell played the best friend character, Gunnar, who was too obnoxious for me to handle at first, only to develop into a very likable character as the film carried on.  A bit part by Anna Gastayer as a teacher also worked quite well, not to mention Scott Bakula, who’s character introduces a whole other element to the film, which could have been explored to its benefit.

There are a few bumps along the way, but Geography Club is a nice film overall that clearly has its heart in the right place.  It is made effectively enough and has a simple arc that is fitting for the kind of film it wants to be.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

geography_club poster whysoblu

Paris Manhattan (Movie Review)

The next film of my Wednesday night screenings at the festival was Paris Manhattan.  Here is the NBFF synopsis for that film:  Alice (Alice Taglioni) is a Parisian pharmacist with a huge Woody Allen fixation.  She has a huge portrait of him in her bedroom from which she seeks advice on life, and even hands out DVDs of his films to her customers as medicine for their ailments.  Her parents have a sense of urgency for her to find a man, but, in Alice’s mind, none can match Woody Allen.  When she meets Victor (Patrick Bruel), the pharmacy’s security alarm serviceman, the two grow close as they embark on a series of misadventures involving Alice’s colorful family.

The story is incredibly straightforward and at barely 80 minutes in runtime, it wastes no time in accomplishing what it set out to do.  The added benefit is that the film is very enjoyable and full of charm.  Writer/director Sophie Lellouche uses the novel concept of incorporating Woody Allen into a film that is very much inspired by Allen’s work.  She uses dialogue clips from films by Allen to work as a way for Alice’s inner monologue to converse with Allen, and that remains quite amusing throughout.  The idea of her suggesting Allen films to watch to her customers, rather than prescribing actual medicine is a little much, but fits the quirkiness that the film is going for.  Even in a scene that involves a burglary, the film does not attempt to go dark with the material.  It is all about having a fun time.


Both Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel are very good here.  They have great chemistry together and benefit a film that needs to show why these two people should be together, even if they try to convince themselves that they are not right for each other.  Taglioni, in particular, is wonderful as the lead character that seems like a real person that has a lot of hang-ups preventing her from being in a serious relationship.  We get to watch her interact with her family and can see how she is a bit different, given how she addresses others and speaks her mind.  Bruel, on the other side of things, is pretty charming as a slightly older suitor for Alice, despite still playing things very smooth.  It is his unassuming, genuine nature that makes him quite charming and a good foil/love interest for Alice.

It is because the story is so thin that the film does not reach a higher grade.  There are points where certain elements seem thrown in just to prolong the feature in an effort to make it feel like a full film, rather than a lengthy short film.  Perhaps a lot was cut out (though I would be surprised at that) for the sake of keeping everything as simple as it seemed, but regardless, there was not too much depth to Paris Manhattan, despite being so charming.  I will say that the end really won me over though.  As contrived as it could be considered, I fell for certain coincidences that occurred, most likely because the cast had already won me over and I enjoyed the film’s general optimism.

Paris Manhattan does not break a whole lot of new ground, but Woody Allen rubbed off on France enough, after making Midnight in Paris, that the tale of Alice’s adventures now exists and I was happy to watch it.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

paris-manhattan poster

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website,
and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week
for more of my coverage of the festival!


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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