FILM RATING: 3 stars
In one of the first major indie films to skip a theatrical release and prove that online and video-on-demand (VOD) distribution can work, Actor/Director Edward Burns recently brought us Nice Guy Johnny (2010). Made for $25,000 according to Burns, and with a production crew of three people, Burns being one of them, Nice Guy Johnny is an impressive all-digital effort by one of the brightest young filmmakers to buck the studio system. Ironically enough, Burns made his first feature film The Brothers McMullen (1995) for the exact same amount of money 15 years earlier. It was this film, shot on repackaged 16mm film stock, that started Burns’ career. It’s exciting to see him go back to his indie roots now that he’s made a name for himself. I have enormous respect for Burns as an Actor, a Filmmaker, and a person. Even if I don’t always think his work is the best.
Nice Guy Johnny is the story of a young guy, played by newly minted actor Matt Bush, whose been following his dream career as a sports talk radio show host. But he made a promise to his fiance years ago that he would leave that career behind and get a “real” job if it didn’t start paying well when he turned 25. Now he’s 25, about to get married, and he’s still stuck in a middle-of-the-night time slot for his radio show, with little income to show for it. But he absolutely loves his job. And he doesn’t really want to leave it behind for a dull job working at a cardboard box manufacturer on the East Coast, provided by his fiance’s father. Being the dutiful “nice guy” that Johnny is though, he travels back to the east coast to interview for the job anyways. While he’s there, he visits his Uncle Terry, played by Ed Burns, who questions his choice of getting married and quitting his job. Uncle Terry seems to know that Johnny isn’t going to “win” by getting married to a woman who doesn’t want him to be who he is. Against Johnny’s vehement objects, Terry decides to set Johnny up with a girl that will appreciate him for who he is and what he does, seemingly to give Johnny a taste of something else so he has a more balanced outlook on life and his decisions. Kerry Bishé plays the girl that Johnny is tempted with.
Shot on the Red Digital Cinema camera and edited using Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Nice Guy Johnny looks good. I watched the film on DVD through Netflix ironically, instead of by streaming or video on demand. It wasn’t as good of a presentation as the High Def trailer looks, but it was still decent. The cinematography in the film is better than average and I felt like Burns and his cameraman did a good job of lighting and shooting the picture. I think the film “suffers” for not having a larger crew to finesse the details of camera work and filmmaking, but when I remind myself that 3 people made this for $25,000, I’m very impressed with the results. What more could be done given those circumstances? I probably shouldn’t compare this small indie film to a $30 Million Hollywood studio film. But I think most people just watch a film and compare it to all the other films they watch and make a judgment simply based on what they see and hear and not on what it cost to make or how it was made. Or at least that’s the general way I look at movies as a cinephile. I see all films as equal in terms of the possibility for me watching them or loving them. At the end of the day, it’s an experience you go for a short ride on, and it works or it doesn’t.
Overall, I give Nice Guy Johnny 3 stars out of 5. The story was interesting and told pretty well with the cast of actors that Burns chose. The editing led by Janet Gaynor was solid with good pacing. The movie moved along well and kept me engaged. If this is the future of Indie films, I think there’s a bright future ahead! While Nice Guy Johnny isn’t landing in my top 5 films of 2010, it was a worthy film experience and I think it sets the foundation for more creative work to come at a similar production level. If more filmmakers can learn how to tell their stories at this level, just imagine how many more possibilities for great films there can be! You could make 80 Nice Guy Johnny’s for the cost of one Winter’s Bone (2010). Or 1,500 films compared to one The Social Network (2010), a film also shot on the Red camera. Granted…quality always trumps quantity in my mind. But I think you get my point. The more opportunities for work from filmmakers, the more opportunities for great films. Especially films we can watch at home or on the internet instead of in the theater. There’s a new demand for a new type of film venue. I can’t wait to see what Burns does next!