By Joshua Lewin
I suppose this must happen in some way, with most trends and styles of the past—it certainly does in fashion—but this current movement toward celebrating this time period of my youth in new narratives, well, it just seems particularly destined.
Maybe everyone—or most everyone—goes through a similar period, when popular culture takes its turn at reviving the things they once loved, when young. Or, maybe the current trend in film, television, and even contemporary literature, is a more unique development for our time. Which ever it is, take a look around and see displayed in glorious and specific detail, the lights and sounds of video games and emerging capabilities for abstraction in sound and vision, for a new original sort of fantastic and immersive storytelling—of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Part of that destiny, then, is a first feature length film by filmmaker (and writer, director, marketer) Kendall Goldberg: When Jeff Tried To Save The World. The film, with the inarguably long title (something this publication is uniquely fond of), usually goes by its shorter nickname: When Jeff Movie. Or: #WhenJeffMovie.
Set in a bowling alley nearing the end of its lifecycle, When Jeff is a story of redemption and becoming who you are, accepting loss and embracing change—and it is a story of difficult relationships that get better, much better, through a bit of empathy in communication. When Jeff is a movie that could save you, transform you (fix you?), all while allowing you to have quite a bit of fun; to laugh and to play. In our current achievement and unending progress based culture, these things: transformation and improvement contrasted with play, don’t always like to exist together. They should.
Borrowing its setting from the bowling alley/arcade of my (no, of your) youth, When Jeff delivers an original story rooted deeply in our time. Instead of simply another nostalgia movie, this film tackles the roots of that current nostalgia itself, celebrates them, and even lets them go.
Technically, also, this small feature (which performed so well as a short film that it prompted its own graduation to feature length), is a welcome counterpoint to some of the more prominent, studio budget, titles mining the same nostalgia without bringing any purpose, or originality, to the narrative.
With When Jeff, Goldberg is baring her own nostalgia, but is not content to exist entirely within the world of someone else’s game. And that makes all the difference.
When Jeff mixes incredible detail from the ins and outs operation of the bowling alley itself, the bones and structure of which continually remind us that technologies, whether long passed or emerging, are never mysterious at their core of levers, buttons, connections of wires, and the combination of digital and analog processes. Processes that will eventually fail into atrophy and entropy without human interest and continual involvement.
Goldberg amassed a perfectly rounded cast for this feature, a cast that the mere sight of increased the thread of nostalgia, without taking away from the story itself. Jeff is played by Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), who is in a feature length showdown with Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation). A minor character in this story is actually a piece of technology itself. A console style game, working in real life, that was built just for the purpose of this story.
This buggy, DIY, box filled with lights and sound, an escape, but never too far, its faulty wiring consistently drawing us back to the real world, and the real work, at hand. Memories of a more fruitful time, when the bugs in the machine were recognizable, and the programs themselves perfectly welcome, but unnecessary.
When Jeff Tried To Save The World was quickly noted as an official selection of the Independent Film Festival Boston 2018, the Lower East Side Film Festival 2018 and half a dozen others and has since won multiple awards including the Indie Vision Best Performance award at the Twin Cities Film Festival (Jon Heder) and the International Film Critics Choice Award for Best Directorial Debut at the Heartland Film Festival (Kendall Goldberg). When Jeff Tried To Save The World will be available in most major VOD and streaming services on December 7, 2018. www.kendallgoldbergfilms.com/whenjeffmovie @whenjeffmovie