Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: October 19th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Gallo Actors: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Trevor Morgan, Ray Liotta, Charles Durning, Samantha Mathis, Ron Perlman, Diana Scarwid, Julie Lott
irector George Gallo (“29th Street,” “Trapped in Paradise”) crafts an emotional journey of discovery and wisdom, filled with characters and performances as colorful as the paintings at the heart of the story. Vibrant, sentimental, and full of life, “Local Color” reveals the passion and influences behind the creation of a new artist and the rejuvenation of a forgotten one through a mutually beneficial, culture-clash/age-clash matchup, like the most agreeable onscreen, odd-couple pairings. With poignant revelations and dabs of brilliant humor, art imitates life as much as life becomes art.
In 1974 New York, young John Talia (Trevor Morgan) aspires to be a painter. Against the wishes of his overbearing father (Ray Liotta), he travels to Pennsylvania with elderly, professional artist Nicholi Seroff (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to learn the master’s techniques. However, the cantankerous, alcoholic painter’s tortured past leaves him with little joy in his soul, causing the tenuous relationship between the two to weaken and falter throughout the summer months. But through encounters with such diverse characters as art aficionado Curtis Sunday (Ron Perlman) and captivating country girl Carla (Samantha Mathis), John learns several valuable lessons about life and art from Nicholi, while the irritable Russian also begins to regain the passion he once knew so long ago.
Knockout performances by Armin Mueller-Stahl, Samantha Mathis, and Ron Perlman are the true highlights of the film. Stahl embodies the broken down Nicholi with uncanny realism and authenticity. Based on a real person, Seroff, whom director Gallo chose to leave anonymous for legal reasons, actually spoke as depicted in the film, with overbearingly crude language and a never-ending bottle of vodka in his hand. But those idiosyncrasies translate quite nicely to the screen, embellished or otherwise. Similarly outstanding are Mathis as the mysterious and distraught neighbor, Perlman as a hilariously flamboyant enthusiast, and Liotta as the stern, homophobic father. With such a contrasting blend of zany characters, “Local Color” possesses a surprisingly refreshing degree of comedy, which breaks up its slower pacing and tranquil subject matter.
While the film’s story and acting are its most redeeming factors, the most peculiar element is its narration. Opening with the voiceover of an older man explaining his journey through life, the audience immediately assumes the story will be a flashback. Instead, this same character, the older version of Talia, continues to narrate at key points in the film – except that viewers never get to see who is behind the voice. Several shots focus on young Trevor Morgan’s face as the voice continues to speak; audiences may assume it’s him reminiscing about his experiences, but they are never allowed to make that connection, since Morgan is never shown as an old man. It’s fairly obvious what is going on, yet the disassociation is nevertheless prominently distracting.
Gallo brings to life the story of his own youth and the mentor who guided him in his personal dreams of becoming a painter. His fervent ardor for both art and filmmaking (and the casting of several exceptional actors) has culminated in a project both moving and humorous (with a dash of “La belle noiseuse”). Showcasing idealism and realism amidst personas taken from his own exposure to this niche, the behind-the-scenes making of “Local Color” is as inspiring as the film itself. Working without studio support and with limited funds and resources, the crew still acquired notable actors and was able to shoot the entire picture in a mere 18 days. Several of the producers – and even Gallo himself – took out mortgages on their homes to help fund this endeavor, while most of the talent agreed to participate simply out of admiration for the script and the recognition of Gallo’s adoration and enthusiasm for the subject.
– The Massie Twins