Review: 'Searching for Wooden Watermelons' anything but wooden
By Richard Zowie
Times Guardian movie review
Searching for Wooden Watermelons, a 2003 independent film, will probably seem unremarkable to some viewers. It has no sex scenes. The profanity is minimal. There are no strikingly hilarious scenes. There are no action scenes, no scary or gory moments.
Don't let those things discourage you from watching it. SFWW is an excellent character study that follows the discontentment of someone who, rebelling against their apparent destiny in life, decides they want more. From the appearance of an outsider, 25 year-old Jude Farnie seems to have a happy life. She was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. She's finally about to graduate from college after transferring twice. She has a steady boyfriend who loves her and plans soon to propose to her. For all practical purposes, everything's falling into place for Jude to settle down as a wife and as a court reporter.
While watching this film, I got the strong impression that director Bryan Goldsworthy and Wendy English (who stars as Jude and also wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film) both know how to make the most of this independent film's limited budget. One of the first shots in the movie is of Jude walking down the road in her royal blue graduation cap and gown-an excellent way of drawing a viewer's attention and a strong indication that something isn't right. The film gets directly to the point. As it turns out, Jude walking down the road in her graduation outfit serves a purpose: she left her graduation ceremony prematurely out of no desire to claim it since she doesn't want to work as a stenographer. And although she does love her boyfriend and her dysfunctional family, she wants something more out of life.
In my lifetime I've seen countless low-budget films, most of them horror and sci-fi films from the seventies and eighties. Of them are Tourist Trap and Exterminators of the Year 3000. What usually plagues these films, besides the laughable special effects, silly plotting and other low-grade production values, is the terrible acting. I was really surprised by the good acting in SFWW. As the opening credits rolled across the screen, I recognized no names-not even that of a yesteryear star looking for any type of role to either make a comeback or (more likely) pay some bills. Despite it, though, I found myself amazed that all of the principle characters did a fine acting job.
The good acting could be because this drama-comedy is also largely autobiographical: English left Beaumont to follow after a dream of working in the entertainment industry. I think her own personal experiences help to make this film work. The characters come across as genuine and down-to-earth without any of the small town stereotypes that often come when even established actors play the parts without knowing the area.
As we watch the film, we see that Jude has been recording countless sitcoms on television since she got her first VCR nearly 20 years ago. Her apparent reason: to study comedy shows, see how they're written and develop the skills to become a successful TV writer. This is her dream, her calling in life. She and her best friend, Riley Jefferson (played by Chad Safar), have plans to become partners in comedy writing. Riley, though, faces a dilemma, follow his dreams and go with Jude out to California on little more than hope or stay in Texas and help his father try to keep the family's theater business going in the black?
Jude is a character many of us, particularly me, can identify with. What's better-to settle down into a comfortable life that you find yourself discontent with or take a chance and follow a dream? As Jude contemplates what to do, the film also focuses around her family and friends' reaction to what she wants to do. Jude also faces the task of dealing with a death in the family, a grandparent's declining health and her relationship with her child-like mother.
SFWW is primarily a drama with some comedy thrown in. Throughout the film, there's narration thrown in (something I've always liked). At the end in the final narration, Jude speaks from the angle of looking back five years later. English tells you just enough to leave you hanging as to what ultimately happened to her character, but just enough to let you know that her character has no regrets.
3 STARS (out of four)
Rating: Not rated but equivalent to PG-13 due to some profanity
Fish Outta Water Productions
Now available on DVD
My rating system:
Skunk-an abysmal bomb of a film that "stinks".
1 star-Mediocre. Balance your checkbook instead.
2 stars-Average. Not terrible but by no means great.
3 stars-Very good.
4 stars-Excellent. Overall, an outstanding piece of filmmaking.