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18 AND 1/2

(Indie film stalwart Dan Mirvish is back with the kooky 18 1/2. The film is currently making the festival rounds. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Director Dan Mirvish’s latest, 18 1/2, is a quirky political thriller beaming with larger than life zaniness. Named after the infamous 18-and-a-half-minute long gap in the damning Nixon tapes; Mirvish’s film wears its heart on its sleeve. Yet, refreshingly, 18 1/2 holds its political viewpoints close to the chest as to not bludgeon audiences with partisan finger wagging. The film is rendered in beautiful soft cinematography (by Elle Schneider) evoking Altman’s early 70’s work, or perhaps Alexander Payne’s seminal Sideways. 18 1/2 is a buoyant ride that leans into a phenomenal cast of character actors. Familiar favorites such as John Magaro (First Cow), Richard Kind and a stunning couple played by Vondie Curtis Hall and Catherine Curtis (Orange is the New Black) lead this indie affair through 70’s paranoia and goofiness.

In January of 1974, a low-level government clerk (Willa Fitzgerald) accidentally uncovers a mysterious tape containing the infamous missing 18 and a half gap from the mythic Watergate recordings. Quickly, she absconds with the tape to an island to meet with a giddy and anxious reporter played by John Magaro. Ashley’s character, curious and defiant, refuses to hand over the tape so easily. They make a deal to listen together on the reporter’s tape player in a private motel room. But Alas! Just when they are about to uncover politics’ next biggest scandal; they discover their machine is broken. So, down the rabbit hole they go. They bounce around from room to room in search of a working player, encountering strange vibes and stranger characters along the way; hippies, army vets, and an eye-patch touting motel manager lurk around every corner. A Pynchon-esque cast of characters help stir the conspiratorial anxiety that heightens the quirky paranoid thrill. 

Eventually, our rag tag team find a working player in the possession of an oddball older couple residing at the motel. In exchange, they request sharing a quaint dinner with the protagonists. At dinner a Bossa Nova record plays, providing a calmness juxtaposed against our central characters’ anxiety and excitement. After an evening of grueling awkwardness powered brilliantly by the hilariously insufferable Hall and Curtis, our protagonists make it out with the coveted player. Soon, the contents of the tape are unleashed along with the true identities of the cast of oddball characters. Covert political forces, at all ends of the spectrum, are on the hunt for the tape. Every man and woman for themselves- the one tape to destroy them all!

18 1/2 is a genre bending microbudget affair that draws from a trove of influences. At times this indie feels like a lighter Coen Brothers work and at times it feels like a cynical hipster mumblecore akin to the fascinating and prickly slow burn Slow Machine. In rougher moments, the plot’s weight can feel like an obstacle- chaining down these eccentric characters. Scenes where the writing becomes less constricted, meandering into sinister psychological characterization, is where the film truly excels. The sadomasochistic tension during the dinner scene is a real hoot! Mirvish’s film is a fun and eccentric outing, relishing in the “what ifs” of alternate political history; a much-needed breath of fresh air when taking on politics in today’s charged climate. 

–Sammy Levine (@thesammylevine)

Dan Mirvish; 18 1/2 movie review

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