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baystate blues

BayState Blues
Mark Lewis
Cast:  Scott Lewis, Allyson Serebof, Sharon Maguire, Steffi Kammer, Joe Tuttle, Mickey Carpenter, Tony Ezzillo, Ryan Balas

Joanne Ross

August 5, 2008


Director Mark Lewis says of his indie film, Baystate Blues"What do you think of when you hear the term 'small town America'? Chances are if you're on the Conservative Right, you think of a Norman Rockwell utopia. If you're on the Liberal Left you think of a haven for the brain dead redneck NASCAR fans. As with most things the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. This is a story of the truth."”.

“This is a story of truth”. A lofty claim. Does his film deliver?  Let’s see . . .

Baystate Blues depicts one day in the lives of Devon (Allyson Sereboff) and Mike (Scott Lewis), a married couple struggling in the aftermath of Devon’ near-fatal car accident. Her physical recovery from a severe leg injury is slow, and she’s in constant, excruciating pain. Her injuries aren’t just physical, though, and consequently, she succumbs to the attendant depression and wallows in self pity. Nothing is right in her world, but she feels incapable of taking charge to change it. Mike tries to stand by her patiently, but it looks like the support is beginning to wear on him. The family drama also includes Devon’s two sisters, the spirited and silly Alex (Steffi Kammer) and the abrasive, yet vulnerable Virginia (Sharon Maguire). Though they don’t know it, on this one day the main characters are about to embark on a journey during which they will assess and re-evaluate their lives. And they won’t end up where they started. There are discoveries. Growth happens. Things that are stuck start to unstick. Decisions are made—wise and foolish. And change ultimately takes place as it always must for us all-too-fallible human begins.

After breakfast with Devon, Mike takes off to his work site and commiserates with his buddies, co-workers Tony and Oliver (Tony Ezzillo and Ryan Balas, respectively).Meanwhile, in the early afternoon, Devon gets the surprise of her life when she runs into her old boyfriend, Wojo (Mickey Carpenter), a musician on break from his band’s tour. And the conflicted Virginia surprises herself when she invites Jason (Joe Tuttle) an ex-boyfriend she dumped to go with her to the get together at Devon and Mike’s house later than evening. Each character spends their day ruminating about their lot—their desires, disappointments, and regrets. And those thoughts and emotions are simmering in their guts when they arrive at Devon and Mike’s where things will come to a boil and the contents will spill over on everyone.

When we think about people different from us and who live in places we don’t, it’s easy to resort to stereotypes. New Yorkers are loud, obnoxious, and rude; Californians are green, botox-loving, health and exercise junkies (as ironic as that is); Southerners are uneducated, “ignorant-and-proud-of-it” rednecks, and small-town Midwesterners are small minded, bible thumpers of the Fundamentalist variety. It’s much easier to generalize about the personality characteristics of a group of people rather than look at them as individuals. Lewis’ Baystate Blues beautifully and effectively forces to look past the stereotypes and see the characters in this small town as individuals. If you have ever been a wife, a husband, a sister, a friend, gotten married, been dumped by a girlfriend, cheated on your wife, cheated on your husband, were tempted by an old flame, worked as a laborer, graduated from college, dropped out of high school, been in a car accident, recovered from an injury, been afraid of relationships and intimacy, took a risk, desire and want more than you currently have, experienced disappointment, feel guilt and regret, suffered from depression, or discovered that success and adulation as a musician is a poor substitute for genuine friendship, loyalty, and honesty then you will definitely relate to these characters. In short, they are us, we are them.

Because this is a character and script driven film, Lewis focuses more on the story, actors and the ensemble acting. So this is not a film that requires a display of visual virtuosity as much as it does strong direction and a talented cast capable of evoking the layered motivations, actions, and emotions needed to breathe life into these characters and make them believable. Fortunately, the director has an amazing cast on board.  Sereboff and Lewis have the meatier roles—after all it’s their domestic crisis upon which the drama hinges. However, as the film progresses, I found that Sereboff’s Devon became a little too whiny and helpless, and Lewis’ Mike morphs too much into the angry, redneck jerk for my tastes. For me, the standout performance comes courtesy of Sharon Maguire as Virginia. As Devon’s and Mike’s crisis comes to a head, Virginia’s brittle, hard shell starts to crack, revealing a much softer woman scared of commitment and a little jealous of her sisters’ more intimate relationship. Maguire’s Virginia is a nuanced, complex and multidimensional character, beautifully realized. Initially, I found her abrasiveness off-putting. By the end, I loved her.

Baystate Blues is far from perfect, though. It does have its flaws, the chief of which are the visuals and some sound and editing problems. The outdoor shots are overexposed and come across on screen as harsh and glaring. The biggest visual problems though concern the jerkiness of the hand-held camera and the director’s excessive use of close-up and extreme close-up shots. I’m assuming he did this to establish intimacy between the audience and the characters. By using a hand-held camera he gets up close and personal, right into the characters’ personal space—and by extension, so do we.  When you consider that the script is “confessional” and all about the characters admitting their most closely guarded feelings, the film already establishes intimacy, by the nature of the script itself. The use of close-up and extreme close-up shots isn’t wrong, it’s just that he overuses them. The end result is that intimacy seems more like intrusion and invasion. It’s uncomfortable to look at and not aesthetically pleasing or effective. Overkill.

There are some sound and editing glitches as well. Even the script, which is generally great, suffers a little from its confessional nature. Because the monologues and dialogues are all about personal feelings, it can become a little too self indulgent.

Criticisms aside, Baystate Blues is a sensitive, engrossing film with all the drama worthy of an addictive soap opera, but with none of the manufactured sentimentality and bullshit. Lewis’ film strikes all the right chords and touches us deeply with its emotional truth. Kudos to Lewis for his sure direction and to his marvelous cast, especially the exquisite Maguire, for their solid performances and fine ensemble work.

This is, indeed, a story of truth. So, yes, Lewis delivers. *-JR.


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