Marc Webb's directorial debut, '500 Days of Summer', starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in the titular roles, was lauded as one of the best films of 2009 and was almost unanimously praised by critics for its screenplay, lighthearted comedy, and a non-linear narrative structure that was mostly unheard of for romantic movies. It drew comparisons to classics such as 'Annie Hall' and 'High Fidelity' in the process and is now very much a cult classic.
But as it is the case with practically every movie, there are those who did not see what all the hype was about. Aspiring writer/director Austyn Jeffs is one of them. In fact, Jeff's disdain for the film is so pronounced, he went ahead and made a spoof of it, 'Double Eagle Ranch,' which he says calls out the protagonist as the 'possessive, self-centered a*****e' that he is.
Unlike its 'inspiration,' 'Double Eagle Ranch' does not follow a non-linear narrative structure and is, in fact, pretty straightforward in how it tells its story — except for a few odd cutscenes in between. It doesn't rely on any fancy, over-the-top locations or revolutionary cinematography to make its point, instead, using a simple but nonetheless entertaining premise to push home its point: that there is no panacea to relationships woes, and that sometimes, maybe it's best to let go.
The characters in the movie are very well-crafted and developed. Marc (Kyle Cooper) represents all the values that Jeff felt Gordon-Levitt's Tom Hansen portrayed quite blatantly in 500 Days of Summer — he is a selfish, narcissistic, possessive a*****e (the last of which is referenced numerous times in the movie) who refuses to accept his wrongs and who 'judges people so hard it's exhausting.' The immediate hunch I got was that he was a Ted Mosby-type (from 'How I Met Your Mother'), in the sense that he was frustrating and infuriating, but at the same time, well-meaning.
Lyndsey Doolen's Lindsay, who herself comes across as quite self-important, complements Marc well in this regard, with the couple of Joe Hartzler's Jeff Pearson — who is the polar opposite of Marc and the quintessential nice guy — and Melissa Hunter's Ren — a sweet and overexcited woman — providing the perfect and contradictory foil for the story to unfold.
'Double Eagle Ranch' goes out of its way to parody the Marc Webb romedy. While '500 Days of Summer' has all these deep and so-called enlightening moments where the character finds himself/herself, Jeffs undercuts every poignant and heartfelt scene with d**k and erection jokes. There's also Marc and Lindsay engaging in foreplay, but he stops, despite being very drunk, after she insists that no means no.
Include the rant about c***s and you can see why Jeffs described his movie as a 'romantic comedy' for the post #metoo movement — it's one that very much encourages conversation but insists that it be done with the right tone.
As the movie reached the halfway point, I remember genuinely feeling curious and excited about where it was headed. An initial suggestion to the possible pagan roots of Marc's dead grandmother and the subsequent cutscenes that constantly reference them grab your attention and trick you into thinking that there is a dark, twisted ending in store, while in truth, it was building towards a surprisingly plaintive and thought-provoking conclusion.
It was a difficult movie to poke holes into, but yes, there are a few. For instance, choppy editing at certain points meant you felt it abruptly jumped from one scene to the next. There was a general confusion on its direction and what I felt were 'filler scenes' that did little to add to the story. This, in turn, reflected poorly on the run-time, which at a little over an hour and 40 minutes, felt unnecessarily long and drawn out.
And because I couldn't find a place for them in the initial review as a consequence of their relatively minor roles, I'd like to give a special mention to Devon (Julian Huguet) for his awkward but endearing charm, and Hemingway (real name Mr Higgins) because I felt like he was an embodiment of Marc's a*****e-ness in furry form; and also because I have a soft spot for cats.
All in all, 'Double Eagle Ranch' navigates the pitfalls that new-age parodies often fall prey to masterfully. The dialogue is gorgeously written, hard-hitting, and sprinkled with the acerbic wit and heavy doses of sarcasm seem to be second-nature to Jeffs, while the music is on point as well. And yes, there are the meta jokes, but the over-the-top, scarcely believable characters that look woefully out of place are thankfully absent, instead replaced by genuine people who each go through a journey of self-introspection and self-discovery.
Film: Double Eagle Ranch
Runtime: 1h 47min
Director: Austyn Jeffs
Writer: Austyn Jeffs
Cast: Kyle Cooper, Lyndsey Doolen, Joe Hartzler