Directed by Angela Bettis
Distributed by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
We all know guys like Roman. Awkward and uncomfortable. Socially inept. Are they weird? Absolutely! But not really dangerous, right? Unfortunately, within a few minutes of meeting Lucky McKee’s Roman, it’s obvious that this particular guy is beyond weird, beyond dangerous. But he is also quite sweet and, yes, lovable.
Roman is a painfully ill at ease welder who has become obsessed with a lovely young woman who lives in his apartment complex (Bell). Every evening he watches her come home and retrieve her mail. Eventually they strike up a conversation, and she finds herself drawn to her uncommunicative yet oddly intriguing neighbor. Things get out of hand quickly, however, and the next thing we know Roman’s bringing some extremely large bags of ice home and going on weekly picnics by the river that end with him throwing a sack weighted down with rocks into the water. If you’ve seen more than a handful of horror movies, you’ll be able to guess what else is in the bags.
As the days wear on, Roman is surprised to find himself growing in popularity both on the job and at home. The guys he works with have grown tired of making fun of him all the time so start treating him with a bit more compassion and including him in their conversations. And Eva, the cute, slightly kooky new arrival to his complex (Rose), could be just the ticket to drawing Roman out of his shell and enabling him to have a genuine relationship with someone. But alas, this isn’t a happy ending kind of experience. Eva’s obsessed with death, and Roman can’t quite shake his infatuation with Bell’s character. It all makes much more sense when one learns that Roman was written by McKee, who also penned the dark and twisted May, and directed by Angela Bettis, May herself and certainly no slouch when it comes to understanding what it takes to explore themes of isolation and despair.
Roman is, first and foremost, an art film. Shot on digital, it’s beautifully framed and filmed despite its modest budget (only $250,000 according to the IMDB); and even though it boasts familiar names like Kristen (Veronica Mars, Pulse) Bell and Nectar (Serenity) Rose, they are so toned down from any “star” type trappings that there’s none of that “Oh, look, there’s so-and-so from such-and-such” type of reaction when they appear onscreen. But the movie really belongs to McKee. Known primarily to genre fans as a writer/director, he has a few uneven moments in his portrayal of Roman; but honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else in the part, which is a testament to his acting abilities and immersion in the role. The character is creepy and obviously disturbed, but there is something innately likable about both Roman and Lucky that shines through in his performance. I know I used the term “awkward” already to describe him, but truly, no other adjective comes close. From start to finish, both the character and the film itself are the very embodiment of the word. Even the music is, at times, ill-fitting and out of place. In many ways Roman is reminiscent of another cinematic misfit, George A. Romero’s Martin, not from a storyline point of view, but definitely from a tonal one. If having her audience squirming in their seats and feeling completely unnerved 99.9% of the time was Bettis’ goal, she succeeded with flying colors!
The DVD is packed with extras. First up is the Highlight Reel, which is basically a montage of alternate and deleted scenes. It also includes some great improvs with Roman’s co-workers, a behind-the-scenes look at recording voice-overs, and the setup for a scene involving a burning cigarette. Fun stuff! Next up is a really clever 23-minute cast and crew interview session wherein the principals actually interrogate themselves (i.e., Angela questions herself, Lucky questions himself, and so on). It starts off great and plays out like its own short film, but after about 15 minutes it begins to wear out its welcome. Luckily, the final few minutes regain steam and close out the segment on a high note. Then come 13 additional minutes of Alternate Cast Outtakes, the best of which are more improvs with Roman and his welder buddies, one of whom is Lucky’s dad, Mike McKee, which just makes some of their discussions all the more uncomfortable and icky considering their relationship.
The real gem of the special features, however, is the commentary featuring Angela Bettis, DP and Editor Kevin Ford (who sounds like a guy I’d love to hang out and party with), and AICN’s Cargill, who generally leads the conversation with a lot of questions and observations and keeps it flowing nicely. It’s too bad Lucky isn’t there as well, but the three who are cover so much ground that his absence really isn’t all that much of a negative. Some of the topics covered include the welding imagery utilized (again, kudos to Angela and Kevin for how striking those scenes look), how some of their casting choices came about, Roman‘s connection to May as its “companion piece,” and the true guerrilla style of filmmaking they employed in a few instances. It’s conversational, entertaining, and informative with tons of behind-the-scenes tidbits thrown in for the listener’s enjoyment. Make sure you watch Roman all the way through the credits for an extra little treat. Don’t worry; they’re super short given the miniscule crew Angela had to work with compared to the big budget blow-outs Hollywood releases these days.
Some of the best films I’ve seen are the result of ongoing collaborations between actors and directors who work together over and over to hone their skills and perfect their craft. The team of Bettis/McKee has turned that concept on its ear with the role reversal found here in Roman. It’s fairly common for talented actors to morph into just as talented directors (do the Oscar-winning names Eastwood, Gibson, Beatty, and Costner ring a bell?), but to see a director like McKee step in front of the camera — in a principal role no less! — is refreshing and a nice change of pace. Bettis proves her mettle as well by tackling such unsavory material and having it come out looking so good — nearly exquisite in fact. We already knew she was a force to be reckoned with in the acting arena. Now, with her involvement on the production side with Mo-Freek and her obvious aptitude for directing as displayed in Roman, she becomes a true triple-threat talent with quite a bright future on her horizon.
Interviews with Cast and Crew
Alternate Cast Outtakes
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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