Netflixable: An era dies, and everybody makes speeches about it at the “Camera Store”

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The standard rule of thumb is that film is a director’s medium and TV belongs to producers.

The theater? It belongs the writer and the actor.

“Camera Store” is a film that feels like a play. It’s littered with showy bits of performance, archetypal characters delivering cutting monologues, episodes built around entrances and exits and a simple, over-arching theme.

It’s got “Death of a Salesman” pretensions and a road show/regional theater cast biting off chewy anecdotes, homilies and memories. And if I can’t say it’s all that good, I can at least vouch for its ambitions and virtues.

It’s a middling movie but a fascinating, well-acted essay on changing times, lost opportunities, little lives shrinking in traps of their own making.

Writer-director Scott Marshall Smith had a hand in “The Score” and scripted “When the Game Stands Tall.” And if we take nothing out of this “memory play” of a movie, it’s that he loves words.

A lot of them come out his leading man. John Larroquette plays Ray LaPine, an embittered mall camera store manager who has to say “Let me finish” more than most of us, because he’s long-winded, old school (foul mouthed and racist) and won’t brook interruptions.

Ray’s life, like most lives nearing 60, has been a never-ceasing parade of loss. It’s 1994 in Nanuet, New York, and malls and camera stores and Ray are all endangered species. Here’s how he takes that out on the pissant mall manager (Joey Folsom).

“You are a ‘functionary,’ which is one step above ‘lackey,’ which is a first-cousin to ‘flunky,’ which is only a GNAT’S eyelash from being the ‘chief counter monkey’ at a Kentucky Fried Chicken!”

That’s some fine ranting, there. Ray rants a lot.

He’s been told by a former colleague (David James Elliott) whom he hates for moving on to bigger, better things that “digital” is here, and he’d better get out now. If he’s ever going to get his own One Hour Photo booth business, which he has been telling the cute co-owner (Laura Silverman) of the Italian restaurant in the mall, his ex-actor assistant manager (John Rhys-Davies), the security guard (Theodus Crane), the mall manager and everybody else about, he’d better get on the phone to Fuji — today, right now.

It’s Christmas Eve, and what used to be the busiest day of the year for the store is still pretty busy. Good thing the boss hired a friend’s Wharton School of Business kid (Justin Lieberman) to help out, without telling anybody.

Pete’s supposed to “learn a little something about business” while there, but Pinky (Rhys-Davies), once a rising star of the British musical theater, distracts him with theater anecdotes and his salesmanship secret — “You invite them to fall in love!” Pinky always has his hand out, is always taking a detour to the tiki bar across the hall from them.

Young Pete also has his head turned by the forward, flirtatatious and buxom young woman Penny Wednesday (Maddie McCormick) whom he gawked at on the bus on the way to work.  She doesn’t work there. Yet. She seems to be a sexy drifter who invites the attentions of men to get by.

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During the course of a very theatrical day, cheapskates and sob stories make their way into the store. It may be only the preamble for the REAL hard week ahead — “returns.” But competing agendas, dying dreams, blossoming love and Big Secrets add weariness to the grind of the march towards Close of Business, with lots of speeches by Ray along the way.

Everybody’s got a sad story, and we hear a lot of them.

It’s a ham-fisted, sentimental and downbeat script that provides far too many opportunities for hammy performances. And as I averred, “Camera Store” doesn’t really work.

But it’s as interesting a failure as I’ve run across this year, a hollowed-out holiday wallow in regrets that wear into scar tissue, the only thing that dulls the depression and justifies the fatalism of seeing all your deferred dreams and delusions, bad bets and poor choices come home to roost in a single day.

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MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity

Cast: John Larroquette, John Rhys-Davies, Maddie McCormick, Justin Lieberman, Joey Folsom and Cheryl Ladd

Credits: Written and directed by Scott Marshall Smith.  A Freestyle Release on Netflix.

Running time: 1:44

 

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