Choose Connor, an absurd civics lesson about a politician who takes a suburban middle-schooler under his wing, wants to give literal meaning to the expression, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” At numerous points, you suspect the low-budget project has been conceived and executed by middle-schoolers. Turns out writer/director/producer/editor Luke Eberl was only 20 when he made his feature-length debut, so eighth grade wasn’t too distant a memory. He may have a future as a filmmaker, but for now, even political junkies desperate for a movie to endorse this election season should abstain from giving him their vote.
At his sparsely attended middle-school graduation, Owen Norris (Alex Linz) is presented with an award by his local congressman, Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber). Connor is in the midst of a primary campaign for the U.S. Senate and, spotting a sharp political mind in the 15-year-old policy wonk, recruits Alex for his campaign, eventually naming him to the high-profile position of youth spokesperson. Owen is simultaneously befriended by the candidate’s nephew Caleb (Escher Holloway), an androgynous lad who makes creepy puppets, has scars on his back and introduces his new friend to marijuana and suggestive wrestling. The seduction of Owen—an idealist with a picture of Gandhi on his wall—has creepy overtones from the beginning. Connor’s interest in his younger constituents is peculiar, to say the least.
As Owen becomes a local celebrity, his dopey parents don’t suspect anything could be amiss. Whether they’re meant to represent the gullible American public is just one of the many questions raised and never answered. Owen receives a videotape in the mail, a snippet of which was shown at the start of the movie, and you assume everything will come to a head on the eve of the primary. Fortunately or unfortunately, nothing is properly explained or resolved. Yes, Owen gets a glimpse of shirtless, middle-aged men fawning over Caleb—foreshadowed by an earlier scene in which Caleb makes a collage using magazine photos of naked male torsos. Yet it’s never made clear whether Connor is himself a molester or merely has a sex-den cabinet filled with perverted pillars of the community. The biggest unanswered question is whether they consider Owen to be boy toy material. Is he just being exploited for his keen political instincts and articulateness? If orgies are de rigueur in these halls of power, you’d feel kind of sorry for the kid if he were going to be left out of the fun.
It may all sound very racy, but Eberl doesn’t deliver, instead offering vague, supremely cynical generalizations about the political process. Owen is repeatedly warned, “You don’t know how dangerous these people are.” And it’s true; we don’t get to see any really bad stuff happen. The connection between government and the implied homoerotic, S&M-tinged shenanigans is tenuous and, worse, laughable.
Eberl attempts to conjure some Altmanesque naturalism by having scenes overlap, with dialogue from the previous scene heard on the soundtrack while the camera has moved on to the next. At least he tries. There doesn’t seem to have been enough money in the budget for make up, and the 16mm film stock looks cheap rather than vérité. The acting is uniformly, if understandably, atrocious. In a pivotal scene with Owen in the back of his chauffeur-driven SUV, it’s hard to tell whether Connor is breaking down or whether Weber the actor is simply reacting to the material.
Although opting for any other movie showing is prudent, there is one pearl tucked inside Choose Connor. Namely, the aphorism, “It’s better to wear slippers than carpet the whole world.” I guess it depends on what nefarious acts you intend to commit on all that carpet.
Cast: Steven Weber, Alex Linz, Escher Holloway, John Rubinstein, Chris Marquette, Erick Avari, Diane Delano, Richard Riehle, Don McManus, Peter Fox, April Grace, Aixa Clemente, Karen Constantine, James Horan, Charles Hoyes, Senta Moses and James Runcorn
Director/Screenwriter: Luke Eberl
Producers: Karuna Eberl, James McLean, Luke Eberl, Andrew McFarlane and Aaron Himelstein
Running time: 109 min.
Release date: October 10