For a filmmaker, the ‘birth’ of their fist feature film is just like that of a child, but perhaps even more expensive and painful. Often shot on a shoestring budget, using crowd-funding and calling in favors, tirelessly convincing investors of your project’s worthiness as you also repeatedly convince yourself. To say it is hard is a vast understatement. That is why story, direction and casting matter so greatly; There are few if any special effects or fancy sets to distract from those critical elements which make a good film. BAKER’S MAN, the first feature film from writer/director/actor Maurice Hall has the those key elements and has made the most of a very slim budget.
Hall has numerous recognizable acting credits to his name and, to be honest, is a great looking guy. In addition to that he has that ‘thing,” that intangible quality of charisma. Those assets always help. Often cast playing a ‘heavy’ or an athlete, which he was in real life, he wanted to do a completely different kind of project, a romantic comedy. Now, there are people, myself included, who want to run screaming into a burning house at the mere mention of a rom-com. All too often formulaic, not funny, predictable…I could rattle off a hundred mediocre forgettable movies. While BAKER’S MAN has many of the common elements necessary to be a romantic comedy, it has enough unique and charming elements, to have won me over. It also has good actors, genuine humor and most importantly, a strong story.
At the helm of a foundation which awards grants, Hall plays Thomas Stevens a wealthy former athlete turned philanthropist. One candidate for the grant is Alyssa Stock a bakery owner, played by the irresistibly pretty, charming yet approachable Danielle Caley Anderson. Approachable is important because not one of us really believes that we could get Cameron Diaz to fall in love with us and have a relationship with her. She’s too…awesome. Dating Cameron in real life would be terrifying. Anderson is like that one girl from high school whom everyone loved, male or female. An infectious quasar of light and kindness without being a dumb-ass. Stevens travels to her bakery to assess her business and her, and because I don’t give spoilers, there is a story behind the story which includes threads about loss, legacy, racial tension, and of course, love.
The chemistry between Hall and Anderson feels real. They demonstrate an affection, a rapport and tenderness which is believable. It should also be noted that Hall is African-American and Anderson is Caucasian. Their courtship does not beat us over the head with that difference, quite the opposite, it feels like a non-issue. But it is part of a cast which is diverse and well rounded in multiple ways, and feels remarkably true to life for most of us. Rounding out the main cast are the two best friends; hers played by Alyssa Gabrielle Rodriguez, and his played by Andy Cohen. More than merely supporting characters, Rodriguez and Cohen beautifully amplify Hall and Anderson. Rodriguez as Bella, is ‘that’ girlfriend who is loud, brash, utterly oblivious to social customs an manners, and pushes our tolerance right to the edge but never steps over. I found myself realizing that I had been and done things just like her, small seemingly insignificant actions, expressions and quips that help make her a whole person. Cohen is truly, a shining star. Our first glimpse of him is so funny, so perfectly Los Angeles that I guffawed for minutes. His character Nick is so stereotypically LA that you anticipate cringing at his every word, and yet he is irresistibly endearing. I want to be friends with Nick. More notable is that the friendship and chemistry between he and Hall feels like they have been real life friends since childhood, which is actually not the case.
BAKER’S MAN lacks many visual elements of studio films, and its shoestring budget will be noticeable to the viewer. However, it has so much more, in so many ways, than films with 10 times its budget, that expensive flourishes would only feel like unnecessary padding. With a realistic and genuinely funny screenplay, strong acting, and moments we have all had in our own lives, both sorrowful and happy, this film is a skilled example of knowing how and where to use limited resources and the power of a well written film. BAKER’S MAN is an great example for all first time filmmakers facing the gestation of their dream.(3.5 / 5)
Director: Maurice Hall and Van White
Cast: Maurice Hall, Danielle Caley Anderson, Andy Cohen, Alyssa Gabrielle Rodriguez, Caren L. Larkey, Taja V. Simpson
Rating: No rating
Running Time: minutes
BAKER’S MAN Movie Review