The Drama Club

For his sanguine version of The Big Chill, writer/director Joe McClean acknowledges voice-of-a-generation expectations with conversations about privileged childhoods and the economic hardships of adulthood. “Wait, aren’t we millennials?” asks Elle (Liza de Weerd), who’s told they were born just before the influencers who built social media. These discussions are moments of neat Lawrence Kasdanesque nostalgia in an indie film that leans toward John Sayles’ messier Return of the Secaucus 7 model of troubled individuals dropping their guard amid old friends.

As soon as McClean’s reunited 1996-97 drama-club members see one another, 20 years melt away and everyone slides back into old roles. Once inseparable, they’ve barely kept in touch, a sobering fact no one acknowledges as they settle into an easy familiarity. Back at their former teacher’s rural home, where they bonded during spring break, they’re dramatic high school seniors again. (Instead of flashbacks, McClean occasionally replaces the adults with their teen selves to emphasize déjà vu.)

Many characters are at a crossroads, including group leader Luke (Chris Ciccarelli), still sidestepping his bad behavior, and reunion organizer Aaron (Dane Bowman), immersed in suffocating grief. Most experience a predictable catharsis and revelation, while Elle, whose take-no-prisoners candor and unapologetic sexuality challenge comfort zones, gains rare insight into the strength of male vulnerability when her easygoing husband, Keith (Mike Kopera), tackles an emotionally volatile situation.

The glorious mountain views and wistful acoustic soundtrack (including a sing-along of Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen”) give The Drama Club the feel of a retreat. McClean (Life Tracker) preaches the gospel of in-real-life friendship, but idealizes their bond with the deft oversimplification of a Facebook post.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on November 11, 2016 by Leomark Studios
First published in LA Weekly, 2016.