While the specific circumstances of a review usually don’t need to be told, it’s appropriate for the directorial debut of Nöel Wells’(Master of None), Mr. Roosevelt.
Considering Wells’ ties to Austin, having studied at the University of Texas, premiering her directorial debut film at the SXSW Conference is of little surprise. There’s even a line in her script that mentions SXSW. But what makes the premiere so unique to the review is that Wells wanted to premiere the film on 35mm to get the full movie experience at the historical Paramount Theatre.
The only issue with running a film print at a film festival is with all the rush and moving pieces, something is bound to go wrong. There were three malfunctions with the projector: the film running off the track, a bulb going out, and the sound going out for a minute, all to Wells’ horror. Despite these obstacles, Mr. Roosevelt largely stayed intact and hardly missed a beat (if at all). When the projectionist rolled back the film to reset a scene, the audience fanfare didn’t drop off at all. The same laughs from 15 minutes prior were shared once again.
It should be noted how strong structure is to Wells’ unique brand of comedy. Mr. Roosevelt features a rather simple setup that Wells pulls every ounce out of without running out of gas. Wells stars as Emily, a struggling actress in L.A. going to hopeless auditions, all while hoping for a big break while working as a commercial editor on the side. Emily receives news one afternoon that sends her immediately on a flight to her hometown in Austin — a family member’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and she wants to be by his side.
While that’s the gist of the film, the greater conflict comes from Emily’s ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thule) and his new girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower), who have invaded the house Emily once shared with Eric. It’s a contentious relationship, with each character pointing a finger at another, cranking up the tension.
That tension mounts with each scene — varying from Emily eating too much bread at a restaurant, to Celeste’s veiled attempts to cast dominance over Emily with money — all as more ideas of modern relationships start to unfold. It’s material we’ve seen Wells tackle on Master of None, but she clearly has a hold on these ideas in her own right, deftly addressing one night stands, long distance relationships, and dating apps all in the span of 90 minutes.
What helps Wells’ case even more is how her character is a deep reflection of herself. She’s this quirky, comic comedian that grew up in Texas just like Emily did. While this doesn’t take “acting” per se, as it’s version of herself, her performance holds up because of it both in her line delivery and physical performance she ramps up with some inventive work in the editing room.
Mr. Roosevelt is a story about self-discovery and testing new limits and learning from the past. As as semi-biographical endeavor, it’s a relatively safe project, but bearing your own soul up on the screen, as Wells does here, should be commended
Not only do Emily’s dreams show up on the screen, but the darkest sides of her sometimes vain personality also develop. That’s not an easy thing to present, let alone turn into a comedic fuel. Still, Wells does just that, and churns out a great indie-darling sure to inspire and charm.