Gabriel Sunday as Archibald Holden Buster Williams
Brooke Nevin as Sierra Silver
David Carradine as Vargas
Nora Dunn as Gretchen Williams
Zachary Ray Sherman as Corey
Michael Welch as Earl
Joe Mantegna as the Indian Psychiatrist
Tony Hale as Carmelo Peters
Directed by David Lee Miller
David Lee Miller and family have produced a beautiful independent film that will spur discussion about teenage angst, suicide and growing up obsessed with media that doubles as a star vehicle for newcomer Gabriel Sunday.
Archie Williams (Gabriel Sunday) grew up as a TV fetus, always keeping cameras close and living his life through his favorite movies. For his 4th period video production final, Archie announces that he’s going to kill himself on camera. His classmates, parents, Sierra–the most beautiful girl in school (Brooke Nevin)–and the expected cast of shrinks, doctors, pill-pushers, and counselors descend on Archie.
After successful runs at SXSW and a Crystal Bear Prize win for Best Feature Film at the Berlin Film Festival, “My Suicide” finally came to New York as part of the annual Gen Art Film Festivals week of 7 premieres and 7 parties.
“My Suicide” began principal photography in 2005 as director David Lee Miller and his family began tossing around ideas for their media company Regenerate.org where teens make media for other teens. After 20 days of shooting, lead Gabriel Sunday joined Miller’s son Jordan to edit the film over the period of two years, refining the character and style of the film with a small team of visual effects designers and animators.
A film that has spent so much time in development involves a lot of love and a singularity of vision that helps usher the viewer through the first, schizophrenic half-hour of “My Suicide.” Introducing Archie Williams involves everything from childhood home movies to animation to impressive recreations of classic films like “Deer Hunter,” “The Matrix,” “Goodfellas” and countless more subtle allusions (“My name is Robert Paulson,” shows up as a throwaway line). Gabriel Sunday puts on quite a performance building a character that has been so media saturated that an absence of a healthy family life has left him with no other way to exist than to document himself constantly.
The opening of the film uses appropriated media from YouTube, rotoscoping and more traditional visual effects like stop-motion to establish A frenetic tone that mirrors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s “Crank” series, but with substance instead of visual fireworks for fireworks sake. The screen is a collage of quick cuts and different media, but the content is so character-focused that the film stops just short of becoming so over-stimulating that the viewer goes catatonic.
Enter Sierra (Brooke Nevin), the attractive and popular girl in school who at first exists to be the beautiful-looking love interest but soon engages Archie because she is also cursed with his depression and, though neither of them know it at first, similar narcissism.
Sierra attempts to breach Archie’s shell as he goes through the gamut of mental health professionals from a subtle and all-too brief Tony Hale cameo to a visually exciting scene with Indian psychiatrist Joe Mantegna who seems to be the only adult that can communicate with Archie on his level.
After the two leads begin to do the dance of death around their real problems, the film slows down and takes the time to attack the issues at hand from multiple angles. Archie is always carrying a camera and interviewing classmates about his upcoming suicide. Actors and non-actors both step in to deliver their emotionally relevant points with an especially memorable montage suggesting you should never default to the phrase “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
The final third of the film gives the omnipresent camera the brunt of the drama allowing Archie’s first-person, fourth-wall-breaking narration a little rest and letting the audience settle into a more traditional narrative. Archie and Sienna both idolize a fictional “death poet” named Vargas, played by David Carradine with his trademark cool. By the time Vargas shows up to be the Deus Ex Carradine, the movie steps back from humor and the fantasies of a film-obsessive to talk about life and death. These scenes are played honestly, so even though you might think “Here comes the after-school special,” the film manages to narrowly avoid that criticism.
A film about suicide can only go down one of two ways, but what makes it a good film is how it gets there, and “My Suicide” gets there through Gabriel Sunday. Sunday caught the eye of David Lee Miller and his son Jordan because of his experience as a filmmaker from a young age. Creating a character that uses one’s own home videos, years of production and around 16 months of living on the film’s principal set is a monumental task that Sunday performs flawlessly.
Sunday is not a traditional impressionist, comedian or videographer as much as he’s an actor that’s comfortable using more than his physical presence to serve the larger good of his character and the film. Though the movie is undoubtedly about Archie, Archie the character is created by multiple people. Archie began with Gabriel’s face and old home movies, then was expanded by visual effects artists, animators and editors. The weight of the picture is placed on the character’s shoulders and we’re told for the first half hour of the film that Archie is little more than a sponge for all the media around him. Inhabiting such a complex character and one that must have gone through massive changes from script to screen is a tour de force for Sunday, especially since the early burden he bears is making a narcissistic non-character likeable.
The Bottom Line:
“My Suicide” would be a great film for teenagers to watch if you can convince them to seek it out through Regenrate.org or at the local indie theater. However, independent film fans who enjoy a solid story, visually stunning multi-media that goes beyond clutter for clutter’s sake should seek it out too. Those of you that would rather fill your theater-going experience with gunshot wounds and explosions will eventually stumble across this film, but only after you find youself asking where Gabriel Sunday came from.