News of an upcoming feature from filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson (who had previously directed mid-90’s comedies Baby’s Day Out and Angus) lit up the Internet in the mid-2000s with a fantastic trailer set to music by ELO and Jon Brion. The trailer, centred around an awkward teenager in the 1970s anticipating a unique blockbuster called Star Wars, dropped when I was in high school and working at a video store. However, the film went silent and time passed. I quit the video store, graduated high school, moved to college, met a lovely woman who would become my wife, graduated from my program, and 5-25-77 remained unreleased.
In early 2013, as an established resident film critic for FilmArmy.ca, I caught wind that a workprint version of 5-25-77 was to be presented at the TIFF Next Wave film festival – I was transported back to my teenage excitement. My wife and I sat down to watch the press screener. We were both looking forward to it, but one of us was definitely giddier than the other.
During the first half of the movie, it was obvious that 5-25-77 was a work-in-progress. The special effects resembled clipart, and the story had a hard time transitioning from scene to scene. There were kernels of potential littered throughout Patrick Read Johnson’s labour of love, but the film’s flaws were glaring and seemingly irreparable. This was particularly worrisome regarding reshoots considering 5-25-77’s leading star John Francis Daley (know for his role on Freaks & Geeks) had grown up. In fact, he had served a long-running role on TV’s Bones, co-wrote Horrible Bosses, and would be on his way to directing his first feature film (2015’s Vacation). Rumours of a final film being given a proper release were kept at a murmur.
May 25, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ original release of Star Wars, and select cities will celebrate by screening Patrick Read Johnson’s reworked 5-25-77. After giving the film a second chance, it’s with great joy and relief to announce that this current version of 5-25-77 (which could pass as the finished cut) is not only cohesive and cleaned up, but it’s also a winner.
Johnson’s autobiographical film sticks to the same story of aspiring filmmaker Pat (John Francis Daley) being inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at a young age, and striving for a career as a director. He occupies his time with model sets and science fiction when he isn’t making shoestring movies with his best friend Bill (Steve Coulter). He dreams of Hollywood and meeting SFX master Douglas Trumbull, but realizes how impossible that journey may be. With a little help from his encouraging and forgiving mother (Colleen Camp), Pat scores a trip to California and speaks with film editor Herb Lightman (Austin Pendleton). He also drops in on a film crew making a revolutionary space opera that will change his entire life.
Johnson’s self-written script for rings with rich, witty authenticity (when Pat meets a baby-faced Steven Spielberg, he turns to Herb and asks, “How old is he?” “11,” Lightman wryly responds). Most of all though, 5-25-77 tells a story of artistic passion and how different people connect to film. Pat’s filmmaking motivations are revealed after a blow-up between him and Bill, but he wears his heart on his sleeve as he admits that movies help him identify with his peers and the world around him.
5-25-77 would’ve been a remarkable breakout for Daley, but the role still stands as one of the actor’s best performances in his career. However, Austin Pendleton is a scene-stealer as a craftsman who is struggling with his own cynicism yet sees hope in Pat’s avid attitude.
When comparing this refined cut to the workprint, the elaborate special effects have either been simplified to a favourable degree or are on screen too quickly to notice any blemishes. Pat’s imagination was also illustrated through sequences of hyperactive daydreaming, which are still evident but toned down drastically as we see Pat as the controller of his own destiny. This dialled-down film results in more patience towards Pat’s coming-of-age story and tighter pacing. This cut also includes a lengthy yet beneficial prologue to Pat’s hands-on introduction to filmmaking. Pat’s father, who was merely mentioned in the work-in-progress, is now a physical character – played very well by Johnson in a personal cameo.
Just as Pat urges his community to give Star Wars a chance, I propose the same recommendation to you for Patrick Read Johnson’s film. 5-25-77 is sheer sweet wonderment. After being in the shop for a very long time, it’s now ready for your viewing pleasure.
Patrick Read Johnson’s 5-25-77 hits select theatres on Thursday, May 25. Click here for more details!
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie