Friday February 4, 2000
"Wirey Spindell" is as idiosyncratic as the name of its hero, which gives this surprisingly affecting film its title. It's surprising because it's hard to imagine that even an independent filmmaker as gifted and distinctive as Eric Schaeffer has been able to work up so much emotional involvement into a tale that's essentially an extreme case of male prenuptial jitters.
With nine days to go before tying the knot, Schaeffer's Wirey beats a momentary retreat to the bathroom of his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment. All he wants is some private time, he explains to his lovely fiancee, Tabatha (Callie Thorne), who has made an unwelcome interruption with an offer of a cup of tea. Why the bathroom? she asks. Why not another room, since they have only one bathroom?
The questions send Wirey back to his childhood, to the times when he wanted to flee from his already-divorced, well-meaning but offbeat hippie mother who was strenuously trying to spare him the terrible childhood she herself endured. For example, Wirey just does not connect with her idea that he should "get in touch with your anger" by beating his bed with a tennis racket.
Wirey, after an excruciating incident at school, decides at about age 15 to live with his teacher-father and stepmother in rural Vermont, which amusingly proves to be meaner than the streets of New York City. The local yokels brutally haze the urbanite Wirey as a "flatlander," and in no time he has retreated into a cornucopia of drugs his father has stashed away. (Wirey is played by Eric Mabius from age 17 until the film jumps ahead to the present, when Schaeffer takes over as Wirey at 36.) By the time he's off to college, Wirey has a drug problem, conducive neither to academic survival nor in coping with the headlong rush of first love with Samantha (Samantha Buck), a ravingly beautiful, aspiring young actress with a fear of being loved.
So achingly intense and comprehensive is Schaeffer's perception that he makes the whole business of being alive, of being in the thrall of embarrassment, of being caught up in a love that is as glorious as it is ultimately fleeting that this and more come across as astoundingly fresh. Wirey's youthful self-absorption is more than a little painful but not unamusing. In his fourth and strongest film to date, auteur-star Schaeffer has become adept at communicating the pain that simply being alive can bring from just the right emotional distance.
Schaeffer is discreet and funny and inspires his actors to risk everything, as he does on both sides of the camera. With its visual panache--Kramer Morgenthau is a cinematographer as venturesome as Schaeffer himself--and equally potent score composed by Amanda Kravat, "Wirey Spindell" may be too heady for some tastes but can stir you deeply, if you're open to it.
Wirey Spindell, 2000. Unrated. A WinStar Cinema presentation of a Five Minutes Before the Miracle production. Writer-producer-director Eric Schaeffer. Producers Dolly Hall, Terence Michael. Executive producers Bruce Greenfield, Van Greenfield. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau. Editor Mitch Stanley. Music Amanda Kravat. Costumes Amanda Silberstein, Bootsy Holler. Production designer Mark Helmuth. Set decorator Niamh Byrne. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Dolores Heredia as Esperanza. Fernando Torre Lapham as Padre Salvador. Demian Bichir as Cacomixtle. Alberto Estrella as Angel. Eric Schaeffer as Wirey Spindell. Eric Mabius as Wirey at 17. Callie Thorne as Tabatha. Samantha Buck as Samantha.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun