Spice It Up does something really special that I hope will translate to general audiences. It rips on practically everything that has to do with making a movie, including those brave enough to take on such a task. It even doubles down on its niche by teasing student filmmakers and the amateur qualities they have yet to grow out of. Spice It Up isn’t mean, but it’s self-aware enough to shoot off some well-meaning friendly fires.
The film is directed by Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, and Calvin Thomas – the latter two directed one of my favourite movies of 2013 (The Oxbow Cure). To my loose understanding after watching the movie, the three filmmakers have redesigned Spice It Up from footage that was supposed to be used differently in another project. Though that’s admirable, my approval of the film doesn’t spawn from that. I received the film as a wry take on a budding filmmaker falling too deeply into her own work. Rene (Jennifer Hardy) is almost finished working on her thesis film project, but finds herself growing attached to her actors. Her project is an ensemble piece starring six young girls who play friendly besties who decide to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces to find meaning in their lives after high school. One-half of Spice It Up follows Rene as she plugs away on her film and receives conflicting feedback from peers (played by directors Albert Shin [In Her Place] and Igor Drljaca [The Stone Speakers]) and a conceited professor (played by film critic Adam Nayman, who is subtly brilliant with aloof, jaded feedback).
The other half of Spice It Up is Rene’s movie of the same name, which are the scenes that are going to push general audiences away. These segments embrace Rene’s callow guerrilla filmmaking, which has been heavily influenced by contemporary works of Steven Soderbergh and Harmony Korine. We see her film – practically – in its entirety, and we find ourselves burnt out by the time Rene’s contrived political and sexual harassment subplots kick into gear. Viewers who are film aficionados or filmmakers themselves will pick up on every faux pas tossed their way, but I fear these in-jokes may be undetected by audiences who aren’t nerdy for cinema.
If the humour is too obscure, I hope audiences can still pick up on the clever plot about a hopeless artist alienating herself because the only friends, she thinks, she needs are the ones she has fabricated in her personal obsession. Spice It Up has a fantastic ending that has the film working in its most authentic sobering and sardonic elements. It was a reminder, for me, of how much I really liked and appreciated Spice It Up – sores and all.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie