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COST OF LIVING(director: Stan Schofield; screenwriters: Ed Schmidt/Steve Schmidt; cinematographer: Larry Fong; editors: Chris Houghton/David Friedman; cast: Edie Falco (Billie), James Villemaire (Ben), Andrew Lowery (Ted), Bill Sage (Converse), Gareth Williams (Dean), Caitlin Clarke (Annie), Amy Horne (Kerry), Steve Beach (Danny); Runtime: 104; A Schofield Films production; 1997)
“If you are looking for possible plusses in this hip neo-noir film, it might be in the director’s visualizations.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cost of Living is a modern noir film that does not use the genre’s familiar plot devices, instead it devotes the entire film to studying one character and her reactions to being on the run. Her name is Billie (Falco): a loner, a scam artist, a biker, and a drifter. It is the type of role usually played by a man — Billie tries to be a man.

Edie Falco says the most profound line in the film: “Things are not always what they seem– Ben!”

We learn whatever it is that we are going to learn about Billie through her actions, as she heads toward a small impoverished fishing village. Billie dumps her motorcycle over a cliff and meets a guy who claims she’s from a small Texas town. But Billie tells him that he’s mistaken. With no wheels she steals a car and gets a fake auto license, and then checks into a motel and stashes four thousand dollars under the rug and goes out and meets a scruffy fisherman named Ben (Villemaire) who smashes into her with his pickup truck. Ben has sex with Billie and afterwards he ties her to the steering wheel of her car, where she remains all night.

When Billie returns to her motel room, the money’s gone. Billie blames Ben. Then Billie goes to a diner, eats like a horse and befriends the waitress (Caitlin Clarke) into letting her skip out without paying. Billie meets a lonely mechanic, a friend of Ben’s, named Ted (Lowery), and he develops a crush on her, but is too awkward to ever say the things that would stir a lady’s heart. A mysterious biker comes to the fishing village looking for her, aptly describing Billie’s tattoo. He says, she’s his wife.

The dialogue is almost nonexistent.

The film yearns to be a story about how impossible it is to be free in today’s world and how everything one does hurts. The film hinges on Falco’s performance. I didn’t buy it. She seemed to be acting too hard to look as if she was loose and free. At the end of the film we don’t know too much more about her than we did at the beginning of the film.

If you are looking for possible plusses in this hip neo-noir film, it might be in the director’s visualizations. At least, this indie is original.

It should be noted that it won Studio Prize for Best Feature Film in New Visions Section at the 1997 AFI/Los Angeles Film Festival. What disturbed me most about the film, was that it was so muddled and it was not a particularly pleasant film to watch because of all the gratuitous violence. I had no feel for any of the characters, therefore seeing them become victims had the same empty impact as reading a newspaper account of a tragedy occurring to strangers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”