Monsters, hookers and hair—oh my!

The Sacramento Film and Music Festival screens a cinematic mash-up of reluctant ogres, Dolly Parton and men behaving badly

Spencer Borup is ready for his close-up—and his first Kiss concert—in <i>Charlie’s Closet</i>.

Spencer Borup is ready for his close-up—and his first Kiss concert—in Charlie’s Closet.

photo Courtesy of the Sacramento International Film and music Festival

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Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

What’s a monster to do when he’d rather read Thoreau and write stories than climb into closets and scare children?

Well, it helps if he can sing and dance.

That’s the premise of Charlie’s Closet, a rom-com musical feature from Spencer Reed, an El Dorado Hills native currently majoring in film studies at Chapman University in Orange.

Charlie’s Closet screens this weekend at the Crest Theatre as part of the Sacramento International Film and Music Festival.

Reed, who is still a teenager (barely), isn’t a newbie to filmmaking. Two shorts, Clockwork and Half Alive, screened at previous SIFMF programs.

“I’ve been doing production since I was 10,” Reed said, “but I really started making what I thought were presentable [films] when I was 14.”

He also gained experience working on a cable-access channel series entirely written, acted, directed and produced by a group of El Dorado Hills students.

“We were producing one show a month,” Reed said. “It felt more like [producing a] film because we had a month to do an episode—it didn’t have the pace of television. It was more a hybrid of television and film.”

He credits the immersion experience involved in prepping and shooting a monthly show with providing valuable skills for filmmaking.

“It was great problem-solving experience. There are so many things that come up on the set, from performances to light rigging—it’s all problem solving at the end of the day.”

Half Alive, one of his short films, is about a zombie with aspirations to normalcy—and it’s a musical.

In addition to screening Half Alive at SIFMF, where it won the Young Filmmaker Award, Reed also showed the film at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Southern California and the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival in Alabama.

“I take extraordinary people and put them in ordinary situations, rather than the reverse, which is more common,” Reed said of his affinity for monster musicals.

“Tweaking the genre—bending it—is also part of this, like taking a monster movie, a genre that would usually be scary, and turning it into a musical comedy.”

And that brings us to Charlie’s Closet. Here, Charlie (Spencer Borup) is a monster, and in spite of his preference for the work of the Transcendentalists, he’s expected to live up to his very scary father’s legacy.

However, he’s too big to fit into the box that monsters use to size themselves for the closet, and in a further complication, Charlie’s only half-monster; his mother was a human. Perhaps scariest of all is that Charlie and his monster colleagues sing and dance in choreographed routines that look like something out of a Music Circus production staged in a much darker alternate universe.

Of course, Charlie ends up on the “other” side, in the closet of a young girl who has plenty of problems of her own. But don’t mistake this for a live-action musical rip-off of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.; the monsters’ raison d’être has a much more existential origin that’s revealed late in the film, and the relationship between the girl, Zoe (Anna Esling) and Charlie is about as far from teddy-bear cuteness as you can get. Nobody’s going to make a plush doll out of Charlie. They’re both isolated outsiders, desperately unhappy with the way things have worked out for them, and so their friendship is about mutual support and self-discovery.

“This is very much about the life of the outcast and how the rest of us relate to them,” Reed said.

Hey, there, lonely girl—there’s more monsters in the closet. You’ll find your beast yet.

photo Courtesy of the Sacramento International Film and music Festival

That doesn’t mean that Charlie’s Closet isn’t a family film; it is, with no language, innuendo or situations to cause concern. But it also has a very strong message about embracing our identities and accepting others’ differences; it’s not just fun and games.

The only real flaw here—other than a few lyrics that seem more geared toward rhyme than advancing the narrative—is that Charlie’s Closet runs long. What might have been a fantastic 85-minute movie is, instead, a very good 100-minute movie. But it is entertaining, and the young actors (too young, in some cases; Zoe’s mother looks more like her older sister, but she does a good job anyway) are energetic and talented.

In fact, it’s a really good movie, especially considering that the auteur was 17 years old during production and that it was shot in just under a month with amateur actors and financed with help from Reed’s parents as well as donations of material and services from the people of El Dorado Hills.

Charlie’s Closet screens on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

The rest of the SIFMF lineup offers some intriguing and interesting choices—although Charlie’s Closet has cornered the market on singing monsters. The opening night feature, Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien, directed by Se Merry Doyle, is a mix of documentary and animated autobiography. Murakami, a well-respected animator (and if you’ve never seen When the Wind Blows, get it in your queue immediately), has lived outside the United States for years. In this film, he recalls his life as a boy, imprisoned in the Japanese internment camp at Tule Lake. Despite his age (and the elegant animation), Murakami’s anger is still palpable—and is among the reasons he’s made his home in Ireland for a number of years.

Friday evening’s program is one of extreme emotions. Face to Face, an Australian film by Michael Rymer, deals with the anger, blame and guilt that must be sorted through in a mediation session following a traffic accident. Stan, a California film by Evald Johnson, is about a nebbishy floral gardener with a thing for hookers—it’s billed as a “dark romantic comedy.” It’s followed by Jacob Chase’s After-School Special, a short film penned by Neil LaBute—the notoriously edgy, “men behaving badly” playwright.

The late-night film on Friday—starting at 11 p.m.—is The Corridor, from Canada. This horror-thriller by Evan Kelly starts with a male-bonding winter campout and is complicated by supernatural events, but relax—no singing and dancing, just freezing and screaming.

A number of student films and shorts make up the Saturday afternoon program, and that evening’s feature is a complete show-biz blowout. From Hollywood to Dollywood is a film about wanting to make a film, in a really bad way. Twin brothers Gary and Larry Lane have written a screenplay that they believe is just right for their idol, Dolly Parton; they want to put it in her hands personally, so they load up in an RV named Jolene (natch) and head for Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the home of Parton’s Dollywood theme park. This one’s all about dreaming big—and big hair.

A special bonus: Half the $10 ticket price for From Hollywood to Dollywood will be donated to local theater company New Helvetia Theatre.