During my latest stint at sci-fi festival darling Other Worlds Austin, I had the great opportunity to see some really great films. The quality and diversity of the line up at the fest is seriously great, and I am happy to share my thoughts on one of the lighter selections.
I am completely fascinated by stories that involve a breach in the time space continuum. Whether the tale is about straight up time travel or hopping through different dimensions, such mind bending stories always capture my imagination and rapt attention. When a filmmaker brings a high concept story to life onscreen with limited resources, I am even more impressed with the effort. As low budget films like PRIMER and TIME CRIMES have already proven, it is absolutely possible to pull off a solid sci-fi film with limited funds. In the new indie film THE WRONG TODD, writer/director Rob Schulbaum once again proves this theory with his ingenious dimension-warping comedy.
THE WRONG TODD starts out as innocently as can be at a party where a young couple, Todd and Lucy, laugh off the beer guzzling frat boy antics of Lucy’s brother Dave. When the couple heads home for the night, Lucy breaks the news that she has been offered a new position on the other side of the country- much to the chagrin of diehard New Englander Todd. The couple go to bed with the issue unresolved, however Lucy awakes to discover that Todd has not only miraculously changed his mind, but his entire attitude has shifted solely toward her happiness.
As the old “if it seems too good to be true” adage goes though, it soon becomes apparent that the “real” Todd has been replaced with another Todd while the real Todd has been inexplicably dropped into an alternate universe where his life and that of his friends and loved ones are quite different. Employing the help of the “other” Dave- a straight laced, conservative alter ego of the real, juvenile Dave- Todd embarks on a mission to discover how the heck he ended up in this upside down world and how he can return to his own.
THE WRONG TODD is the perfect example of how a filmmaker can take rather high concept subject matter and convey it in simple terms where the majority of the “sci-fi” happens within the imagination of the audience. Aside from a tricked out RV as a portal, very few futuristic bells and whistles actually appear onscreen in THE WRONG TODD, yet Schulbaum creates a menacing, other-worldly vibe while nicely managing two very sci-fi parallel narratives.
In addition to the clever presentation of the complex subject matter, THE WRONG TODD also happens to be quite humorous. In particular, the contrast of the immature real Dave with the sophisticated, mustachioed other Dave provides some of the best laughs in the film. The knowledge that there exists a more sophomoric version of Dave in another universe helps land many of the jokes as the other Dave plays straight man in his world. What might otherwise be a melodramatic mind bender instead ends up playing out as a screwball buddy comedy with an elaborate context.
As Lucy, Anna Rizzo does an admirable job as the object of both Todds’ desires. Though her character spends a majority of the film clueless, Rizzo plays Lucy in a way that shows that the wheels are definitely turning when the other Todd acquiesces to her every whim. When the story turns unexpectedly bittersweet, it is Rizzo’s terrifically sincere portrayal that elevates the film past sci-fi humor and into something much more special.
In the role of both Todds, Jesse Rosen applies just the right amount of intensity to a character that has been thrown for a massive loop. While both of his Todds are on a similar mission, Rosen manages to subtlety distinguish each version of the same character with his winning performance without seeming overly exasperated in a majorly exasperating situation.
It is Sean Carmichael as the Daves that really steals the show though. Initially, Carmichael’s take on the real Dave comes off as a slightly ridiculous caricature, but when the other Dave is introduced in the alternate reality, the juxtaposition is just too fun. While the real Dave is growing suspicious of the other Todd, the other Dave is learning to throw caution to the wind in his own dimension. Carmichael’s terrific dual performances provide a ton of comic relief throughout the film and also shows the importance of friendship and loyalty.
The only thing THE WRONG TODD would greatly benefit from is a more dynamic score. Though the simple ditties that quietly fill the background are adequate enough, I bet some of the more suspenseful moments in the film would be elevated even further with more dramatic musical cues.
Minor gripes aside, THE WRONG TODD is a thought-provoking, funny, and unexpectedly poignant film. The way Schulbaum conveys a large scale context with simple means and does so in such a delightful manner makes the effort all the more endearing. There’s no word on distribution for the film yet, but I highly recommend this admirable addition to the beloved alternate dimension canon. Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Aka Annette Kellerman