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Omaha Film Festival 2024 - A Recap

March 17, 2024
Tyler Banark
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Three weeks ago, I attended the 19th edition of the Omaha Film Festival. Smaller in scale compared to the likes of TIFF, Cannes, Venice, Sundance, and NYFF, Omaha focuses on telling Nebraska-based stories along with narratives from around the country and even the world. Although other somewhat big-named movies were part of the festival lineup, such as the documentaries Frida, Chasing Chasing Amy, and the Oscar-nominated short Red, White, and Blue, there were also various feature-length and short films. Here are my thoughts on some of the films I saw this year.

Lousy Carter

Lousy Carter is a comedy starring David Krumholtz as the titular character, a low-life college professor who finds out he has a terminal illness. He tries to sleep with a student of his graduate seminar on The Great Gatsby and sleeps with his best friend’s wife, all while trying to complete an animated film. Krumholtz turns in a dry but entertaining performance, making Lousy into a character that lets the audience decide whether or not he’s worth cheering for. The supporting cast of Martin Starr, Olivia Thirlby, and Jocelyn DeBoer do their parts well as the other people in his life. Although the movie didn’t offer much other than its dry, dark humor, it’s still a fun comedy thanks to Byington's script.

Brave the Dark

Following the true story of Pennsylvania teen Nathaniel Deen, Brave the Dark is about a troubled high school student who tries to turn his life around with the guidance of his English teacher (played by Jared Harris). Easily the best I saw at the festival this year, Brave the Dark also won Best Film and Audience Choice Feature Film prizes. The movie is fearlessly made to evoke a no-filter look into a troubled teen’s upbringing and how it transpired into his life. Nathan (played by Nicholas Hamilton, best known for playing Henry Bowers in 2017’s IT) went through the wringer with his parents, who raised him as a little kid, leading him to the foster care system. 

Hamilton is great, but Jared Harris is the real MVP. He embodies the inspirational teacher trope we’ve seen (i.e., Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love) and runs with it as he fights tooth and nail to ensure Nathan gets a second chance at life. The movie’s tone does feel a little melodramatic at specific points, but it still leaves a lasting impression on viewers as it’s a tearjerker that wins over their hearts.

Guacamole Yesterdays

A spin on Michel Gondry’s 2004 sci-fi romance drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Guacamole Yesterdays follows a woman using a machine to manipulate memories of a relationship that ended in a painful separation. The two leads, Sophie Edwards and Randy Havens, showcase some excellent chemistry in not only the romantic side of their relationship but also in the darker moments. Hudson Phillips’ script benefits from this, and the movie acts as a meditation on grief and how people handle it differently depending on their situations. Guacamole Yesterdays does pull a plot twist in the vein of Shutter Island in the third act, preventing it from sticking to the landing. Overall, it’s a neat sci-fi drama that may be a bit on the nose regarding the movie it’s spinning off of, yet still gets the job done.

Don't Get Eaten

Don’t Get Eaten is a family comedy about YouTuber dad Noah, who takes his family on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods. He hopes to unplug and reconnect with his wife, Rose, as their marriage is on the rocks due to his channel and her on-the-rise career as an entrepreneur. One night into the trip, he and his daughters are attacked by zombies and must hold them off before Rose finds out. This was hands down the worst movie I saw at the festival, as it was tailor-made for families to enjoy, with humor appealing mostly to the current generation of kids. Generational moments such as Noah using a GoPro or watching his videos on a live stream were some of the sight gags that don’t land. The other half of the movie’s head-shaking humor consists of dumb jokes viewers would expect to see from every other kid's movie ever (people getting severely injured from the smallest inconvenience, goofy noises, etc.). It’s a boring watch that families surely enjoyed at the screening, but for the typical viewer, it’s another headache-inducing mess.

The Headliner

Shot entirely in Omaha with a cast and crew entirely of Omaha natives, The Headliner is a comedy that follows a middle-aged comedian hoping to break out on the stand-up scene in Omaha. Director Tony Bonacci has been making several commercials and short films over the years, one of which is a short film version of this. He brings back Darrick Silkman to play the lead, Chad, a comedian who is out of touch with modern society and is estranged from his wife and daughter. Throughout the movie, audiences see various comedians doing their bits in the Omaha stand-up scene. 

Although it’s nothing compared to the likes of big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, Bonacci uses this chance to give comedians at this scale a platform to be seen. The choice is neat and does its job, but the film’s narrative is lacking because of it. Chad gets offered a stand-up gig in Montreal, which coincides with his daughter’s wedding on the same day. Screenwriter Christine Burright tries to juggle these subplots with others (Chad having an intimate relationship with one of his daughter’s besties and learning how to use an iPhone), but the result is messy. Chad comes off as a one-note character, which is partially Silkman’s fault and potentially Burright’s. In the big picture, The Headliner is a movie that highlights Omaha positively but doesn’t bring a story to keep audiences invested.

You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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