One thing that poker, the stock market and fiction share in common is “the buy in.” In movies, that’s the mental leap we make when we accept dramatic situations and scripted characters as real.
“The Misguided” is a not-quite-gritty West Australian drama that didn’t get me to ante up. A tale of sibling rivalry and sibling bonding in the drug trade, and an unlikely whirlwind romance, I appreciated the characters and the up-to-date Aussie slang more than I believed the setting, those characters or how they got to be here.
Levi (Caleb Galati) is a college drop-out drug low-rung-on-the-ladder drug dealer whose girlfriend just dumped him. No worries, mate. He’ll crash with his half-brother Wendell (Steven J. Mohaljevich), a somewhat higher-up-the-ladder dealer, a heavy crack user and an all-around jerk.
Wendell just broke up with Sanja (Jasmine Nibali). Only he didn’t return the BMW he borrowed from her weeks and weeks ago. And she wants it back. Dragging her eye-rolling sister (Katherine Langford) along, she gets Levi to agree that it’s her car. He’s so smitten he even cleans it up and returns it, the beginning of a long, romantic evening with the apparently easily-impressed Sanja.
Only thing is, he doesn’t clear any of this with big half-brother. But again, “No worries,” as in “You’re welcome to her.” But about that car…
That hook-up is so casual and head-snapping that even meeting Sanja’s hothead dad (Athan Bellos, scary) and seeing her somewhat coddled life of affluence doesn’t explain the attraction. She has literally just told her sister, “Lesson learned. Don’t try to help people,” after breaking up with a junkie-dealer who planned on keeping her car, and she’s tumbling for his broke dealer brother?
Levi is so into her he quotes Woody Allen…or is it Selena Gomez? Emily Dickinson! “The heart wants what it wants” is what he says, by way of explanation. He and Sanja are dying to flee Perth. If only his brother didn’t owe money. If only her parents approved. If only he could get a job, etc.
Writer-director Shannon Alexander shot this in palm tree lined neighborhoods, in a striking beach view apartment (Wendell’s) and a garden courtyard designer house (Sanya’s). They look suspiciously like locations that a well-off filmmaker or film student could round up. Everybody seems casual about money, even when they owe it. There’s ready cash at hand.
And what’s that rob one and all of? Desperation. Wendell’s living awfully well for a guy smoking up all his profits. He’s awfully attractive to a succession of women he treats like garbage, and we’re given no hint that they’re users the way he is, so apparently they’re not with him for the drugs.
Levi? He’s got a stoner’s way with the language — “Even you couldn’t have used that amount’s worth.” Or is that just the screenplay, which, like the affluent settings, has a certain disconnection from the gritty world and gritty characters it purports to present.
The drawn-out and dull conversations (Drug dealers aren’t great wits, at least that’s accurate.) deflate what little dramatic tension Alexander creates. We kind of dread what might be coming, size up sizable Wendell (Mihaljevich makes a compelling, colorful villain) and figure he’s capable of something awful.
But Alexander would rather trip up expectations, make us create worse scenarios in our head than the ones he conjures up for the screen. Dangerous seeming people and fraught situations fail to pay off.
Which is why not buying in is the smart bet on “The Misguided.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, sexual situations, profanity
Credits:Written and directed by Shannon Alexander. An Indie Rights release.
Running time: 1:28