It’s kind of nice to see when a star is born at these film festivals. It happened a few years back at the SXSW screening of Trainwreck, which solidified Amy Schumer as the next big comedy star in this country. While Mr. Roosevelt and Trainwreck are two wildly different movies, I felt something similar watching today’s screening of Noël Well’s directorial debut. The film, shot on 35 mm here in Austin, had some problems at first. Nothing wrong with the actual content of the film, but the film itself. The bulb in the projector went out and then the sound was turned off. After a few hiccups, the film was finally screened in its entirety. It’s one of the best independent comedies I’ve seen in recent memory, and the best film of the SXSW Film Festival by far.
Wells plays Emily, a struggling comedian living in Los Angeles. One day, Emily gets a call from her ex-boyfriend. (Nick Thune) that a loved one has fallen ill. Emily ends up returning back to Austin, Texas, where she went to school, to stay with her boyfriend and his new girlfriend (Britt Lower). While in Austin, Emily struggles to find herself among the town is ever-changing as the people around her.
Wells is just an absolute delight to watch on-screen, and the dialogue that she writes is witty and very funny. While she shoots most of her film in Austin, she doesn’t choose to shoot in areas that locals and people who’ve been to Austin might recognize. Instead, most of the film takes place in the neighborhoods of East Austin (I’m pretty sure. I’ve lived here my whole life so I should have a good idea of what the city looks like). In East Austin, she runs into an assortment or colorful and fun characters throughout the film. There’s the punk rock waitress (Daniella Pineda), the colorful and weird Art (Andre Hyland), and more. They’re all really great in their respected roles, and the culture of the eastside is prevalent throughout the film.
The movie looks absolutely gorgeous in 35 mm, at least for the chunk of it that was shown before the bulb went out. Dagmar Weaver-Madsen is behind the camera and does a terrific job shooting Austin in a handheld, indie style. It’s great that Wells chose to shoot her first film on actual film, and it gives the film a visual aesthetic that modern-day indie films seem to lack. It makes the film standout from the pack, and that makes me happy.
Wells is a natural talent. At the beginning of the film she does an assortment of impressions for an audition that are really terrific and hilarious. But she’s also the heart and soul of the film, and the combination of having to give an acting performance while also serving as the writer and director (along with being the Executive Producer) is quite a feat. She was really impressive in her one season on SNL, her turn in Master of None, and others, but this film cements Noel Wells as an honest-to-god star.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed Mr. Roosevelt. It’s playing a few other times during the festival, so if you have time I recommend checking it out then. The film doesn’t quite have a release date yet, but hopefully the film will find a large enough audience. This is a really remarkable little movie, and the technical problems with the screening couldn’t stop Austin, Texas from falling in love with Noel Wells and her movie.