(L-R) Jack Begert, Talia Ryder, Dominic Fike and Darren Aronofsky (Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Veronika Lee Claghorn
Ten years ago synesthesia was a purple word on everyone’s lips. Defined by the phenomenon when the brain hears colors or smells sounds or a myriad of crossed sensory experiences. It’s a confusing aspect of brain power and something Jack Begert’s debut feature, Little Death, taps into. Begert is typically known for directing music videos for chart topping artists like Doja Cat, Jack Harlow, and Olivia Rodrigo. His ability to connect sound to visual is synesthetic in its own right but it is confusing and disorienting. But don’t worry – it’s on purpose.
“When I read the script,” says Gaby Hoffmann (HBO’s Girls, Uncle Buck) at the Egyptian Theater premiere of the Darren Aronofsky-produced project, “I was confused… confused about what I was supposed to be doing…but we are living in confusing times politically… we’re all just confused.” Does that make sense yet? In Little Death, Hoffmann plays David Schwimmer who plays Martin, a writer on a popular comedy series with mental malaise exacerbated (or ameliorated?) by prescription drug use. He’s engaged to Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Saved) but keeps dreaming of some A.I. dreambot. At some point a Chihuahua named Russell switches hands. Songs by Dean Martin and star of the film, Dominic Fike (Euphoria, Columbia Records) play over genre-bending taco truck entrepreneurship. Talia Ryder (Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Sundance 2020) is a smart girl making not-so-smart decisions.
The cast sits on the stage at Sundance veteran Malone’s prompting and pass the mic talking about addiction and Begert’s script. When asked about his inspiration for Little Death, Begert says, “I’m just neurotic…I watched movies like Pi and Slacker a lot…this one day I was in the diner with my friend here (referring to Fike), and i just saw him get so pissed over a packet of mayonnaise at the diner. He [just went crazy] and I wondered why he was so upset — like it was going to destroy his whole month. And like, there are things that I couldn’t handle that would roll right off his back.”
Begert, a USC-grad from Miami, continues his train of thought and says how he took acting classes and edited for other people to hone his craft. Despite his allegiance to J.D. Salinger’s angsty Holden Caulfield who hated actors for being “phonies,” Begert actually respects the craft of his performers. Sante Bentivoglio, who plays Greg, a pharmacy tech who may or may not be a pathological liar, wisecracks that Begert’s script is the only script he has ever read. The audience laughs and pumps their fists at him.
Begert acknowledges at the heart of the genre-bender that puts tender dogs in blenders is about addiction. He and Ficke hold their hands over their hearts acknowledging the loss of close friends and anxiety about the pharmaceutical industry.
Still confused? Picking up what they’re putting down? Maybe you’re not supposed to… “I just wanted people to not have to think about their own lives for a while,” smiles the filmmaker.
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