On its surface, "Mr. Roosevelt" could simply appear to be a well-made freshman film from an actor-comedian, one of many indie comedies about returning home. However, writer, director and star Noël Wells doesn't just focus on her laugh-out-loud funny performance or insightful script: she displays a real eye for the cinematic with shot-on-film visuals that elevate her movie and lavish attention on its Texas setting.
When a family member falls ill, Emily (Wells) buys a last-minute ticket from Los Angeles to Austin. With no money or place to stay, she's forced to sleep in the Instagram-ready guest room of her old home, now shared by her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) and his current, seemingly perfect girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower).
Wells' film boasts an admirable specificity of place and character. It approaches Austin with the loving eye of a former resident who knows the city's quirks as well as its changing character, and it shares a hilariously intimate knowledge of L.A.'s comedy scene. As written and played by Wells, Emily is messy, odd and funny. She's self-involved, self-destructive and self-deprecating, but we like her and root for her, particularly when "Mr. Roosevelt" gives her space to believably evolve over the course of a weekend.
With her debut, Wells demonstrates that she's more than a comedic talent with a wonderfully weird sensibility. As a writer-director, she puts her own stamp on a standard premise, resulting in an unconventional but genuinely enjoyable film.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood