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  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 2006
  • 65 mins

Dance Party, USA

Dance Party, USA

Synopsis

In writer-director Aaron Katz's ultra-low-budget debut, shallow teens drift towards the greater depths of adulthood

About

Aaron Katz wrote Dance Party, USA in 2002, drawn from snatches of conversation he had heard on a train in Portland, Oregon (where he was born, and where the film is set). It was shot quickly on a tiny budget in 2004, and then took a further two years to edit (chiefly because Katz and his editor Zach Clark were living in different US states). Unsurprisingly for an indie debut, it is a coming-of-age story - but it conveys the no-man's-land between adolescence and adulthood with an economy and honesty that suggests the filmmaker has a maturity far beyond any of his characters.

With his best friend Bill (White), 17-year-old Gus (Pennsinger) still adopts the puerile postures of a sex-driven misogynist. One night he finds Jessica (Kavan - think Scarlett Johansson before she got famous) sitting alone watching the fireworks outside a fourth of July party, and their conversation confronts him with the reputation that he both has and unquestionably deserves.

The next morning, he awkwardly tries to make amends with a girl (Buller) whom he had wronged a year ago, and tries just as awkwardly to communicate to Bill how his whole outlook on life has changed more or less overnight, before meeting Jessica again at the fun park to seek a less empty kind of amusement with her than he might have two days earlier.

These teens may constantly 'um', 'uh' and 'er' in hyperrealist fashion, guaranteeing Katz his place in the American independent micro-movement known as 'mumblecore', but as they do so, they are also struggling to span the gulf between childhood and adulthood, so that their linguistic hesitancy becomes the perfect poetic vehicle for teen confusion and incomprehension.

At just 65 minutes, Dance Party, USA barely qualifies as a feature at all, but for all its compactness it captures with apparent effortlessness the tongue-tied self-consciousness and dreamy disorientation that growing up entails. Katz neither patronises nor makes heroes of his characters (how likeable can a would-be rapist be?) - but he does allow them to yearn for something ineffably different and to change accordingly.

One drunken conversation between Gus and Bill shows Gus groping towards becoming a more mature and more responsible person - a miraculous metamorphosis realised not through spectacular visuals or big-budget SFX, but merely through a no-frills marriage of dialogue and performance in what is pure cinematic alchemy.

Like George A Romero's low-budget 1968 debut Night Of The Living Dead (which is heard playing in the background of one scene), Dance Party, USA is concerned with one long, dark night of the soul in an immature America, and heralds the arrival of a real, if understated, filmmaking talent.

Scored with minimal lyricism by Keegan DeWitt, and shot by Sean McElwee in what is occasionally near total darkness (to match the film's darker themes), Dance Party, USA is an assured and affecting debut showing, along with Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park (2007), that Portland is America's cinematic capital of deluded, dreamy youth.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Brendan McFadden, Anna Kavan, Cole Pennsinger, Ryan White, Sarah Bing, Natalie Buller
  • Director: Aaron Katz
  • Screen Writer: Sean McElwee
  • Producer: Aaron Katz, Marc Rippe, Brendan McFadden
  • Composer: Keegan DeWitt

In a nutshell

Dance Party, USA is a modest mumblecore classic, matching the complexities of adolescence to the simplest of cinematic forms.

by Anton Bitel

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