Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 1st, 2020
Hollywood Fringe (Megan Huber/Wyatt McDill, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
From wife-and-husband filmmaking duo Megan Huber and Wyatt McDill (3 Day Weekend) comes Hollywood Fringe, a dramedy about a wife-and-husband creative team forced into crisis mode when one of them gets a big break while the other is left behind. Then again, none of that may be true, as the line between reality and fiction is constantly blurred here, the entire piece framed as a series of theatrical performances about the protagonists’ lives, seemingly based on actual occurrences, but, we assume, emotionally heightened for effect. At the intersection of art and truth lies metaphysical meaning, or perhaps merely more performance. Perhaps we’ll never know, but at least along the way we are frequently entertained.
Not always, however, as the film occasionally traffics in scenes we have seen before, whether they be of awkward bad-actor auditions, outrageously experimental avant-garde theater or frustrated wannabe media-industry players. This does not detract from the many ways in which Huber and McDill turn would-be hackneyed situations into inventive dramatic gems, but does bog down the narrative, at times. Fortunately, lead actors Jennifer Prediger (Apartment Troubles) and Justin Kirk (Last Love) have enough talent to keep our interest going, even when the script fails on its own merits, ably assisted by an appealing ensemble that includes standouts like Erica Hernandez (Bruce) and Nishi Munshi (48 Hours to Live).
Prediger and Kirk play Samantha (Sam) and Travis, originally from the Midwest (as are Huber and McDill) and longtime creative and romantic partners. We meet Sam first, in the middle of what we first take to be an embarrassing workplace encounter that quickly turns polemical, only to then realize we have just witnessed an act of theater, part of a Los Angeles fringe festival, the program announcing this particular work as involving many site-specific episodes. We next find Sam, at home, getting into bed with Travis, where they lament the state of their careers and worry about the long-form series pitch on the docket for the morning. As their spousal argument draws to a close, the reveal of the audience lets us know that we are still watching the play. And so it goes, throughout, the audience (always small) ever present.
As a meditation on the challenges facing working artists, especially ones married to each other, Hollywood Fringe alternates between deep thoughts and frivolous asides. It’s when the two cinematic strategies successfully connect that the film works best, tickling our funny bone and forcing us to reflect. When the jokes don’t land, it’s still not a total loss, thanks to the actors and the fact that we can always blame Sam and Travis, rather than the directors. Their failure to write consistently could just be a part of the larger storytelling strategy, after all. Whatever the fantasy, the reality is that Hollywood Fringe engages more often than it doesn’t, the creatives (both in front of and behind the camera) winning the war, if not every battle.
[Hollywood Fringe premieres September 1, 2020, at Dances with Films-LA, at 9pm PDT, and will have its encore screening on September 5, at 4:30pm PDT.]