Dir: Michael Lehmann. US. 2007. 83 mins.
Flakes starts well and full of pep, but is one of those 'high concept' indie films that fatally loses steam after the first 20 minutes, once the basic premise - dueling cereal restaurants, one a laid-back, funky hippie operation and the other an aspiring corporate franchisee - stops being cute.
Production values are high, the acting for the most part is solid, and Zooey Deschanel is, as usual, a dream. It's occasionally charming, but ultimately there's not much here. Even at a skimpy 83 minutes the film feels long.
Flakes should do well on DVD among the slacker set looking for films that strive always to be 'cool' while simultaneously 'fighting the power', but a commercial release in the US seems a long shot. (Anti-establishment, aggressively individualist Austin, Texas, home of the SXSW festival, was cleverly chosen as the location for the film's world premiere, in the SXSW Narrative Features Competition.) Distributors in other territories looking for something in the Richard Linklater Dazed and Confused vein might want to give the film a look.
Directed by Michael Lehmann, who is best known for the fey, modest successes Heathers and The Truth About Cats And Dogs, the film is shot in richly saturated, bubblegum colours and for part of its running time is lots of fun. (In fact, the cereal-inspired opening credits are excellent, but alas promise more than they deliver.)
Neal (Stanford) is an aspiring rock musician who has ended up as manager of a funky cereal bar which serves vintage products, and much of whatever amusing dialogue the film contains arises from in-jokes about 1970s and 1980s breakfast cereals that will be lost on non-Americans. Miss Pussy Katz (Deschanel), his girlfriend, is herself an aspiring visual artist who hates the touristy clientele who don't understand the T-shirt art that she creates and can't sell. When straight and very uncool rich-boy Ashton Hale (O'Donnell) steals the cereal bar concept to open up a rival operation across the street, with dreams of thousands of new franchisees dancing in his head, complications - romantic, political, and legal - ensue.
Much of the film's ethos has a 1960s feel to it, as there is lots of plot business concerning the anti-materialist values of our slacker heroes versus the sanitised American corporate dream; predictably, Starbucks comes in for a lot of indirect ribbing. Creativity and individualism are assumed to constitute the essence of life, and making money to live beyond a subsistence level is bad. Needless to say, the film's simplistic politics are there mostly to make it clear who the good guys are and to facilitate the final triumph of artistic creativity and true love.
The performances are solid, and the cast of (sometimes painfully) colourful characters - the owner of the hippie cereal bar who lounges around all day in his pyjamas, the brilliant but failed lawyer, now a geezer who wears funny hats, the over-caffeinated drummer, the geek who buys and sells old cereal on Ebay - generate some humour at first go-round, but quickly wear thin. New Orleans provides an intriguing background for the film, but the delightful particularities of that city are underused in the ultimately predictable script. By the end, Neal's struggle to get his music CD released seems overly stretched out, leaving most viewers not really caring one way or the other.