— by RACHEL COYNE —
I still find it amazing what some filmmakers can accomplish with a few dollars and a camera, while others have millions and a full crew and can barely scrape together a cohesive story.
In “Fix,” director/co-star/cameraman/co-writer Tao Ruspoli truly pours his heart and soul onto the screen, giving new definition to the phrase “labor of love.”
Based on a real experience with his brother, Ruspoli tells the story of Milo’s quest to get his troubled brother Leo into rehab. Leo has been arrested and he has until 8 p.m. that night to get into rehab, or else he is looking at doing several years behind bars.
Milo and his girlfriend Bella are working on a documentary in San Francisco, but once he gets the call about Leo, without a second thought Milo drives down to Los Angeles to pick him up in the wee hours of the morning to transport him to rehab (with a warily supportive Bella in tow).
What starts out a simple drive from Point A to Point B gets complicated when Leo informs them that he needs $5,000 cash to get into rehab, which means making a few stops along the way to collect on some old debts. As they race against the clock, the trio meet up with several characters of varying degrees of shadiness, with Milo capturing the entire day’s escapades on film as he tries to both understand and reconnect with his brother.
Since Milo and Bella are documentary filmmakers, “Fix” is shot documentary-style with a handheld camera, primarily from Milo’s point of view. The shaky-cam feel of the movie is reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project,” which in this case is a good thing, as it adds to the grittiness of the story. The Los Angeles these three are traveling through is not the Los Angeles you usually see in movies; they make stops in various undesirable neighborhoods — including chop shops, housing projects and crack dens — which opens Milo’s eyes as to what sort of life his younger brother has been leading.
The most impressive element of “Fix” is how likeable Leo is (played by Shawn Andrews). The guy has basically nothing going for him — he’s been arrested twice, has a drug problem, has no money or home, doesn’t hesitate to steal whatever he feels is owed him and is heading to rehab as a last ditch effort to get his life together — yet you can’t help but find him charismatic and charming. As they make their stops along the rehab route, you see how beloved Leo is in his circle of friends. Sure, said friends may be undesirable company to most, but in the world that Leo has created for himself, he’s a superstar.
A lot of the time, Milo and Bella (played by real life husband and wife Ruspoli and Olivia Wilde) seem like secondary characters in what is essentially The Leo Show. Milo remains behind his camera for most of the movie, leaving Bella to play the role of the responsible adult, which she isn’t thrilled about and wonders why they’re going so far out of their way to help a guy who doesn’t seem to really care about helping himself. Naturally, Leo manages to wear her down, and as they draw closer to their 8 p.m. deadline, Bella concedes to getting the $5,000 any way they can, which involves some ambiguous dealings and some outright illegal actions.
While as a whole “Fix” is a compelling story of attempted redemption — both Leo’s and Milo’s — there are some elements that don’t seem to come together. Milo is granted access to film every stop they make, and while I don’t have much experience with drug dealers and other criminals, I would think they wouldn’t be cool with having their transactions recorded. Bella’s turnaround also seems a bit unrealistic as it happens to quickly. She begins the movie reluctant to get involved and annoyed with what Milo asks of her, but after one encounter with a friend of Leo’s that she finds amusing, she hops on board with plans that involve selling stolen goods and dealing pot on the streets.
Though dark and gritty in its overall tone, “Fix” also manages to be darkly funny at times, especially with its casual acceptance of the criminal activities that take place all in the name of getting Leo rehabilitated. Then it turns around and is frustratingly heartbreaking as you see the sort of life Leo leads and how comfortable he seems in that life, and you wonder how serious he is about getting himself back on track. Milo and Bella compromise themselves in multiple ways to help him out, but you’re never safely sure it’s all going to be worth it in the end.
Ruspoli has been a documentarian up until this point, and “Fix” is an incredibly well-done first feature film (the fact that it’s shot documentary-style helped, no doubt). The story he’s telling is deeply personal to him, and a shoestring budget and lack of major studio backing wasn’t going to stop him from telling it. “Fix” is the very personal journey of a truly formed character, and will hopefully pave the way for Ruspoli to bring more of himself to the screen.
“Fix” has played at many film festivals and will be released in select NYC theaters on Nov. 20, with hopes that other cities will follow suit. A DVD release is planned for February 2010.
Follow Rachel Coyne on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TheOpinionatedB.