HIGHLAND PARK BLUES (director/writer: Pil Pilegaard; cinematographer: Edgar Arellano; editor: Eric Yalkut Chase; music: Ed Kyrzyzaniak; cast: Joe Tabbanella (John), Michael K. Lee (Lee), Francine Sama (Alina), Mogens Ecker (Alex), David Michael Thomas (Richard), Crawford Schultz (Miguel), Leslie La Page (Liz), Emile Ohayon (Karo), Alan Klevit (Uncle Abe), Courtney Ballentine (Dianne); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hoa d. Hoang/Jen Pilegaard/Mogens Ecker; Sub Rosa Studios; 1998)
“It gets over because it’s so plain-spoken and unpretentious.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A warm and fuzzy modern-day sitcom about love, friendship, growing up and sex among four twenty-something pals sharing a house in LA’s Highland Park. This low-budget indie directed and written by Pil Pilegaard has no edge and is filled with enough clichés to supply Oprah and her guests with material for an entire television season, nevertheless it gets over because it’s so plain-spoken and unpretentious. These characters are presented as regular guys–dullards but likable types. Highland Park Blues seems as if it’s a version of television’s Blind Date, if that show changed formats and became a sweet melodrama. In any case, it seems better suited to be an ongoing romantic/comedy cable television series than a theater release.
When John is evicted from his apartment because his ex-live-in girlfriend never paid the rent, he retreats to the Highland Park house of his three buddies: the portly Richard, the wannabe playboy Alex, and the gay Lee. John is a non-drug user and a slacker temporarily out of work, but is not concerned with that as much as he is concerned about getting into a lasting relationship. Alex is a cynic who has given up on finding true love and only wants to make it with every girl he meets. Richard is being supported by his rich Uncle Abe, who promised the kid’s deceased parents he would help him become a lawyer. The lazy, pot smoking, laid-back Richard, who is in the habit of addressing whomever he’s talking to as Dude, has failed the bar exam 13 times and Uncle Abe says this is his last chance or else he comes to work with him in the coat and hanger business. Lee is an epileptic requiring medication and is a recreational drug user and the house chef, who can’t bear to tell his straight-laced Chinese parents that he’s gay and is living with a bi-lingual teacher named Miguel.
The plot picks up steam when Alex brings John on a blind date, where he hooks up with a hot number named Liz. John is turned off because she’s too easy to score. While Alex is turned off by his date Dianne’s criticism of him for banging her too fast and hard, which makes Alex self-conscious and not willing to see her again.
John’s hopes for romance improve when he accidentally bumps into an attractive visitor from Spain, Alina, while on the street. The bi-lingual teacher rebuffs John’s advances because he’s a stranger but when they surprisingly meet at his house during a party Lee and Miguel throw, they get together and become an item. But John gets cold feet when she wants to introduce him to her visiting parents, and this causes a break in their relationship. To the rescue comes a kindly Armenian shoemaker named Karo, who doles out pearls of wisdom on how to court a young lady who pretends to ignore you and in whom you now realize is the love of your life.
It predictably wraps up all the problems in a conventional way, as each character learns a hard lesson about life and of always following the dictates of their heart. Though unbearably banal in spots and as light as a gossamer, I found myself enjoying how accurate it was in catching the very fiber of these love-sick pups. I never for a moment thought they weren’t real people, which is something I can’t say about most mainstream sitcoms.
REVIEWED ON 10/10/2003 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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