The Big Empty
There are two kinds of independent films: The first are made by, no surprise, independent filmmakers with a little bit of money, and distributed by their friends in the independent distribution business. Regardless of quality, most of them die at the box office and serve primarily as showcases for the talents of the filmmakers and actors. (The famous exception, of course, is "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but let's remember that that film was executive-produced by Tom Hanks's wife.)
Then there are independent films made by independent filmmakers and distributed by the 'independent' subsidiaries of the major studios, which can afford to give the films a year's worth of festival exposure, big advertising budgets, good publicity, and powerful distribution rollouts. Often they're made by A-list directors with A-list stars; but they're too quirky - or too poor - to rate a general studio release. (Think Steven Soderbergh's "Full Frontal".)
The new independent film "The Big Empty" is a classic example of the first kind; but let it be noted that it is a very good film by any measure. Though saddled with an unfortunate title, "The Big Empty" is the kind of inventive, understated comedy that would be likely to win big at festivals like Sundance, if only it had a distributor who could take the time and had the money to market it properly. Written and directed by first-timer Steve Anderson, the film stars Jon Favreau as John Person, an out-of-work actor in Los Angeles who scrapes by as a messenger delivering scripts from studio to studio in his battered old VW bus. He's broke, he's in debt, he's waiting for that callback he's probably not going to get.
His neighbor Grace (Joey Lauren Adams) offers to lend him some money but he turns it down. And then another neighbor, the very strange Neely (Bud Cort) comes in with a proposition: If John will deliver a blue suitcase to a man he'll meet in the Mojave desert town of Baker, he'll be paid $27,000, which happens to be exactly the amount he's currently in debt. Deliver the suitcase, wipe out the debt. John wants to know what the catch is, but Neely won't say any more than that. Just give the suitcase to a man named Cowboy (Sean Bean) and get the money. Oh, and by the way, here's a pistol to take with you. A pistol? Umm, okay.
What happens to John when he gets to Baker is the story of the film, and it's delicious. John wonders if he's in some kind of space-time warp when he keeps missing Cowboy but finding other strange people. Among the not-so-strange are bartender Stella (Darryl Hannah) and her daughter Ruthie (Rachel Leigh Cook); among the very strange are motel clerk Elron (Jon Gries) and Ruthie's boyfriend Randy (Adam Beach). Later on John will meet FBI Special Agent Banks (Kelsey Grammer), who may or may not be strange; but in the meantime he will have plenty on his hands, mainly having to do with the disappearances of seventy-five people, whom no one in Baker seems to miss.
It would spoil your fun to tell more, so let me wish that a film as deserving as "The Big Empty" finds its audience, makes lots of people happy, and gets Steve Anderson the recognition he deserves.