Blending scripted scenario, improvisation and an invigorating documentary sensibility, Garrett Bradley's debut feature explores the hopes and struggles of three young adults. The impressionistic result, "Below Dreams," is uneven but never clichéd.
At its exhilarating best, it's a gritty and lyrical portrait of lives that are too messy and tender to be summed up in consumer-centric notions of the Millennial generation.
The writer-director has populated her film with a craigslist-sourced mix of refreshingly unfamiliar faces, experienced indie performers as well as first-timers. Her central trio's experiences on the streets of New Orleans are disparate, but they share a place on the losing side of the country's growing economic chasm: an angsty college graduate (Elliott Ehlers) who hopes to rendezvous with a girl he met in New York, a job seeker with a growing family and a felony conviction (Jamaine Johnson), and a 26-year-old single mother of four (Leann Miller) who wants to be a model and actress.
From bus stations to jazz concerts, Bradley finds epiphanies in public spaces, expressed visually, musically and, in the way the practical entwines with the philosophical, in dialogue spoken by friends and strangers alike.
Lovelorn Elliott's story is the most ordinary of the three threads, while Bradley's vision comes together potently in Jamaine's attempts to find his footing and a paycheck. In two conversations that are actually closer to monologues, Jamaine listens to his friends' compassionate advice, their language vibrant with feeling. After a dental procedure to remove his grills and improve his chances at getting hired, Jamaine studies the gold pieces like something fallen from a star, then checks out his new smile in the mirror.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes.