(Costa Mesa, CA) April, 2015 – Opportunities in the film industry are as rare as finding a pearl in an oyster. For first-time directors, creating and marketing one’s film is the equivalent of the Greek legend Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill in Tartarus, only to have it roll right back down on the same side again. Fortunately, that is where film festivals come into the picture (pun intended), where movies from around the globe make their presence known for the first time, hopefully garnishing promising results. Gregg Schwenk and Todd Quartararo understand very well about the dreams filmmakers strive for, which is why they co-founded The Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF). For the past 16 years, NBFF has dedicated itself in featuring the best in independent cinema, while the sunsets at Newport Beach enhance the movie-going experience even more.
And this year is no exception. Among the over 100 short films making their appearance, Stefan Kubicki’s “Against Night” interlaces delicate thematic threads of poetic eloquence, courtesy of his fine visual eye and the heartbreaking performances of his stars, Konstantin Lavysh and Elena Caruso, making it one of the best ten short films in the entire festival, alongside all the movies featured at the War & Short Peace Short Film Showcase, especially Wyatt Maw’s powerfully haunting “Rise,” which also co-stars Caruso. Italian director Michele Alhaique profoundly elevates the gangster film genre by incorporating a tender, subtle love story between a gentle, protective giant and an emotionally vulnerable escort in “Senza Nessuna Peita,” giving his stars—Pierfrancisco Favino and Greta Scarano—their moments to gloriously shine as the best lead performances at NBFF. There’s also documentary Director Morgan Matthews’s “A Brilliant Young Mind,” his feature debut about a young, troubled genius finding love at the British Mathematics Olympiad, which resulted as a “brilliant” crowd-pleaser during the United Kingdom Spotlight.
And then there is Joseph Pernice’s “Chasing Yesterday,” a movie about second chances, especially when it comes to rebuilding one’s life. It’s a “little film that could,” which has brought about satisfying results. Director Pernice’s feature debut is a true comedic gem that adds to the festival experience.
Junior (Eric Nelsen) is a young man who has hit rock bottom in every sense of the term. Once a promising cross-country athlete on a full Princeton scholarship, with everyone in his home town singing his praises, Junior has now become the pill-popping town drunk after experiencing a tragic event regarding his girlfriend. His parents (a nice Blanche Baker and Adam LeFevre, the latter breaking away from the stereotypical “angry father” portrayal by giving one of the most moving monologues in the movie) have given up on him and his priest’s (“The Sopranos” Steve Schirripa) efforts to prevent the young man's downward spiral seem to be failing. But when Junior accidentally injures Jenny (Courtney Baxter) with his car, he is blackmailed to train and run the division marathon in her place. But while training, a transformation occurs within Junior that changes his life forever.
What makes “Chasing Yesterday” stand out at NBFF is that in a series of intensely dramatic—albeit wonderfully made—films that are debuting here, “Yesterday” brings a nice touch of fresh clean humor. It’s a wonderful “feel good” film that, although it has mild profanity, actually appeals to a family audience. The film entertains as well as educates; a nice combination. And this is due to the combination of Pernice’s deft direction and tight screenwriting where he explores Junior’s physical and emotional journey.
Even though Pernice serves as the heartbeat of “Yesterday,” Nelsen’s performance is its soul. What is quite revealing about his Junior is the method in which Nelsen transforms from the self-destructive drug user to reformed athlete. This is not only due to his posture and physical form, it’s also shown in Nelsen’s eyes. In the beginning, there is rage, apathy, and self-hatred in his look. And Nelsen expertly utilizes that during the film’s dramatic scenes and especially for hilarious comedic effect when he appears to hit Baxter with his car and is trying to appeal to her not to call the police. And as the movie progresses, Nelsen remarkably changes and evolves as though Junior was emerging from an emotional cocoon. His ability to portray angst youth without appearing whiny and maudlin—a tiresome acting technique that too many young actors utilize these days—really separates himself from the rest of the crowd and is indicative of his talents as an skilled actor.
Nelson’s co-stars also shine in their own way with “Yesterday.” Baxter is a fine foil as Junior’s love interest where their chemistry is filled with frustrated fire in the beginning and then transforms into subtle tenderness later in the film. Baxter’s comedic timing and delivery is quite witty, yet she shows remarkable strength and vulnerability. Josh Flitter has some funny moments as Jenny’s kid brother Charlie and David A. Gregory is the perfect symbol of shallow cruelty as Junior’s old high school rival. Lastly, Schirripa’s Father Ed beautifully combines a non-nonsense tough love with benevolent wisdom that adds to the film poignancy.
“Chasing Yesterday” serves as a fine directorial debut for Joseph Pernice. And after its appearance at the 16th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival, this young up-and-coming director will hopefully continue to create diverse cinematic works that will help him grow and expand in his art.
Peter A. Balaskas is a fiction writer, copyeditor, journalist and voice over artist.
Chasing Yesterday debuted 4/24/2015 at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It was screened again on 4/28 (5PM) at The Triangle Cinemas: 1879 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA.
Photos by Prince Street PR