Norah Jones receives top billing in the sparkly lost-in-Jamaica drama, Wah Do Dem (Jamaican Patois for "what's wrong with them") but she only appears in the independent feature briefly at the start. The spotlight performance belongs to Jones' musical co-star Sean "Bones" Sullivan of the Brooklyn band Sam Champion. Sullivan's easygoing performance as a Brooklyn musician dumped by his girlfriend prior to a planned Jamaican cruise together syncs perfectly with writers/directors Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner's dreamlike storytelling. Max may experience one vacation nightmare after another but Chace and Fleischner remain focused on the spiritual side of Max's Jamaican travels via handheld camerawork, frequent use of natural light and long passages of silence. Wah Do Dem opens in New York City and Los Angeles June 18; the start of a DIY platform release planned by the filmmakers. The film's Brooklyn ties will help boost opening weekend grosses in NY. Strong word of mouth and added publicity over Wah Do Dem musical acts The Congos and Suckers will help attract youthful specialty film fans and well as music buffs as the film expands nationwide. Still, overall box office will remain modest due to the limited play dates facing any DIY release.
Brooklyn musician Max (Sullivan) is under 65 and on his own, which means he sticks out from the other passengers on the cruise to Jamaica. His girlfriend, Willow (Jones), bailed at the last minute so Max decides to leave the island tourist traps and seek and out an authentic Jamaican experience alone. Of course, he is robbed while hanging out with locals and forced to make his way to Kingston without cash or clothes in order to return home.
Norah Jones sports a pretty dress as Willow, but appears too briefly to make an impact on the film. Luckily the lesser-known Sullivan more than compensates with a low-key performance, playing a character modeled after him. More importantly, Sullivan settles naturally into the film's quieter moments. Max walks alone onto the cruise ship sun deck on a stormy day. He has his picture taken practicing karate kicks on the ship's grand staircase. He swims in the deep blue waters just off an isolated Jamaican beach. At the film's climax, after befriending a Rasta prophet (Carl Bradshaw from The Harder They Come), the accidental adventurer falls into drug-induced euphoria and stares peacefully at a spider web. It's worth noting that Wah Do Dem inspired Sullivan to record a reggae album of his own.
Filmmaker Ben Chase won a free cruise to Jamaica at a Brooklyn raffle and invited Fleischner, Sullivan and a sound tech along to turn the journey into a movie. Easygoing to the tipping point of dramatic lethargy, Wah Do Dem picks up energy once Max lands in Jamaica and his journey turns from drinking binges to much-needed self-evaluation. One disaster follows after another but it's to Chase and Fleischner's credit that Wah Do Dem never dissolves into a vacation from Hell comedy. They make clever use of the closing week of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign as a lively subplot. Hipster Brooklyn landmarks like Pete's Candy Store make for colorful backdrops. In the film's best sequence, a young robber turns Good Samaritan and guides Max to the U.S. Embassy building in Kingston. Thanks to tranquil moments borrowed from early David Gordon Green films and a breakout performance from Sullivan, Wah Do Dem is a small, quiet independent gem that stands apart from the most of the specialty fare. While it remains to be seen how novice filmmakers Chace and Fleischner will handle a less personal project, the beauty of Wah Do Dem proves that they have earned the chance at directing another film. One hopes Sullivan also continues to act. The talent behind Wah Do Dem is too good to fade away quietly, even if their debut effort remains an esoteric arthouse discovery.
Contact: Daniel C. Murray 917-226-4107 firstname.lastname@example.org
Directors/Screenwriters: Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner
Cast: Sean "Bones" Sullivan, Norah Jones and Carl Bradshaw
Producers: Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner and Katina Faye Hubbard
Running time: 76 min
Release date: June 18 NY/LA