Guerrilla indie filmmaking meets slacker road movie, “Wah Do Dem” is a well crafted black comedy that benefits from its raw, improvisational feel. Conceived when young filmmaking duo, Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner decided to turn a cruise Chace had won in a raffle into a film project, “Wah Do Dem” follows the hapless Max (a well observed Sean Bones) as he embarks on a cruise from New York to Jamaica and subsequently stumbles from one misfortune to the next. It’s a touching and sometimes farcical tale that touches on cultural isolation, loneliness and how desperate situations can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.
Dumped by girlfriend Willow (Norah Jones) days before the cruise and unable to recruit any of his friends to accompany him, Max decides to go it alone. Bored, alone and considerably younger than his cruise companions, Max whiles away his time drinking and fraternizing with the crew. Chace and Fleischner’s direction — utilising hand-held cameras, natural light and virtually no sets — lends the picture a home-movie, almost documentary feel. Coupled with Max’s personable high jinks and amenable nature, the accessible direction ensures that by the time Max finds himself on a Jamaican beach miles away from his ship, penniless, shirtless and shoeless, the audience really cares about his travails.
From here on in, Chace and Fleischner deliver a pitch-black comedy of errors and mishaps as the luckless Max perseveres along the long road to the American embassy in distant Kingston, encountering rickety buses, flooded roads and an eerie mystic along the way. Despite being well out of his comfort zone, Max finds himself seeing the real Jamaica; playing football with the locals and celebrating President Barack Obama’s election at a late-night bar (a standout scene which is all the more poignant given that the jubilance is genuine). It’s a stark contrast from the sterility of the cruise ship; and while Max is evidently fed up (giving would-be thief Juvie [Mark Gibbs] short shrift) and relieved to finally reach Kingston, the overriding impression is that he’s perversely almost enjoyed his adventure.
With “Wah Do Dem,” Chace and Fleischner have not only demonstrated impressive initiative (shooting the entire cruise segment with the sole help of sound recordist Kevin Bewersdorf, who doubles up as an oddball passenger) but have delivered a thoroughly enjoyable heart-warming comedy. In addition, a sharp screenplay and an obvious cinematic eye (the Jamaican segment is beautifully shot) go a long way to suggest that Chace and Fleischner have very bright futures.
(originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com on 14/10/2009)