What a Way to Die:
A Suicidal Road Trip
in The Sweet Life

2016 Los Angeles Film Festival World Premiere

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The Sweet Life (2016) is a bittersweet dark comedy about love and suicide. Written by Jared Rappaport and directed by Rob Spera, the absurd premise takes a pair of suicidal Chicagoans on a drive across country to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Good times!

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The movie begins with professional ice cream scooper Kenny (Chris Messina) saving the life of Lolita (Abigail Spencer). Remember the Socratic dictum “the unexamined life is not worth living?” Even after some examination, Kenny can’t give a reason they shouldn’t end their lives. Taking a madcap cue from the Coen Brothers, they attempt a robbery, steal a car and away they go, off to San Francisco. They’re Bonnie and Clyde with a single gun between them. It may or may not be loaded.

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The humor is absurdist, never forced and extremely funny. There’s also a sadness at the core of the characters. Kenny and Lolita slowly reveal why two young and attractive people would want to end it all. By then, we’ve started to care about them and they’re beginning to care for each other. Best known for The Mindy Project, Messina does his best film work here. Also from television (Mad Men, True Detective) and other independent films [A Beautiful Now (2015)}, Spencer gives the funny and the sexy both with a comic edge.

The dialogue is sharp and the visuals keep us engaged. At the Q&A, Messina wondered aloud how their road movie with multiple, cross-country locations came together in a mere sixteen days. “Phenomenal!” he said.

“The Golden Gate Bridge was remarkable to shoot on,” said director Spera. “It’s like a monster. You feel it moving. It makes sounds.”

scarecrowSpera mentioned Scarecrow with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman as one of many influences. “All the classics . . . The comedies, the dramas . . . They all inform you in terms of the beats. The question is how to reinvent the beats to make it a little more contemporary.”

When asked about cinematographer Gavin Kelly’s hand-held camera work, Spera responded: “In some respects, the aesthetic grows out of the financial. We could not afford a dolly, dolly track, the time or the equipment. Robbed of that tool, we created some other tools. We used the easy rig regularly and I guess that gave us that bit of movement. It does give that sense of immediacy. You want to have the sense that these people are authentic, that you’re really in the room with them. So, the dolly may have been too smooth for us, too cinematic and too filmic. The easy rig and that sleight movement actually puts you in the room a little more effectively.”
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There’s the inevitable midpoint breakup and separation. By the time their road trip lands in San Francisco, they’re together for the film’s harrowing and satisfying conclusion. “Hope, love, purpose, all those classic clichés,” said Spera. “They have a basic truth, they have meaning for all of us, our belief systems. I think that love has to have some value and [the film] proves that.”

Music by Jeff Beal Editing by Matt Maddox
Produced by Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis for Mockingbird Pictures.

For more on Golden Gate Bridge suicide prevention: http://www.bridgerail.org

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