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New Movie Review

"Answer This!"

Comedy, Drama and Romance. Rated PG-13.

Movie poster credit: 3, 4 Women Productions

Answer This! movie poster


by Pete Bublitz


At the Birmingham 8 on Friday night, the 2011 Detroit Independent Film Festival continued its exploration of little or soon-to-be known cinema with the special screening of a feature with Maize and Blue at its heart: Answer This!

Set in the heart of the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campuses, Answer This! blends a sense of infatuation with the local geography into a plotline concerning the tension between organized and elective forms of knowledge and expectations.

With the organized being a graduate teaching program and overseeing parents and the elective being the hinted-at pastime of trivia competitions, the central character in conflict is keen to lean one way while his renowned father the professor (portrayed by the already renowned Ralph Williams, at least in this area) seeks the other end of the spectrum: to pass his position of knowledge on to his son.

Paul Tarsem (whose dilemma-influenced moods are delivered with a light snark by Christopher Gorham) finds himself constantly nudged by Williams’ elder Dr. Elliot Tarsem to complete his teaching dissertation for the sake of continuing a legacy on the U-M faculty.

In being introduced to a love interest freshman named Naomi (Arielle Kebbel) whose campus ambitions are leaned toward social endeavors in terms of experience (and whose revelation as to why might help Paul find himself), he’s instead inspired to enlist a friend and a fellow bar patron (respectfully played by Nelson Franklin and Evan Jones) to use trivia as a new means of moving forward personal accomplishment.

Here is where the character runs into a brick wall: Paul’s hope to maintain a sense of simplicity hampers not only his motivation to establish a flow of thought into what can be handed in to the reviewing board, but also pose a threat to the confidence of handing in the right answers to the trivia MC (here given a suggestfully burned-out sarcasm by Chris Parnell).

Paul’s problem is the still rampant fear of not being on the sound path to adulthood and looks to childhood fascinations like the Bible and Trivial Pursuit to find a proper basis in explaining his standpoint to school officials and students alike. The question, however, is which area of stature will he finally give in to?

In a way, Paul echoes the behavior displayed by the major characters in the 1960's classic Georgy Girl (mentioned here because, yes, it is the subject of a question during the trivia scenes). Those latter characters also attempted to display a type of childish joy in their activities and dialogue regardless of what they faced.

Here, that sense of indifferent excitement and at times juvenile spat give Paul the will to make a decision without being entirely “So F’ off!” about it. With the last fadeout, he delivers the lingering hope that although any of his friends or relatives will be disappointed, the chance of resolution and acceptance is standing outside the doors.

What the doors open and close to is just a representation of where each person will be whether or not it’s where they want to be. Though to specify here would be one spoiler too many.

The film opens up to the audience with a Manhattan-like collage of landmarks that define the Ann Arbor campuses today (of which Woody Allen, coincidentially or not, is part of), and director Chris Farah takes the exploration of these areas to intimate levels by using them to entice closer feelings between Paul and Naomi based on how alike they are. Their recognition of such concrete surroundings makes the setting a more permitted witness to their relation (the same also applies to those areas’ maintenance, as one fantastic moment of awkwardness reveals).

However, the characters in support still aim to create a lasting power in this atmosphere. Both Franklin and Jones play off the opposites kind of attract gag successfully with more laughable horror than expected, while Ralph Williams’ eccentricities signify the latest example of a character who’s literally the performer and can get away with it.

The block M is shamelessly stamped over this film, yet Farah manages to avoid the patriotism of fight songs and frequent campus slogans by underwriting the message of being able to choose where one can go and on which side one can stand. In doing so, it feels like Farah refreshed the American Pie formula of showing humorous rite of passage desperation through sentimentality and a restraint on over-the-top gross-out moments.

With such homage to heartfelt comedy, the question is this: is this the biggest Michigan shout-out to come out this year? One would have a while for the right answer.

Editor's Note: "Answer This" won seven awards including Best Michigan Feature at the 2nd Annual Michigan Film Awards on March 12.

Related Story: 'Answer This!' to be screened during the Detroit Independent Film Festival


Photo credit:

Professor Ralph Williams is one of the stars of "Answer This!" Director Chris Farah is pictured on right.



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