SXSW Film Review: ‘Mr. Roosevelt’ Showcases the ‘Real’ Austin

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While the world was fawning over the glorified piece of garbage that is Song to Song (released during this year’s SXSW film festival) there was another film being premiered at the festival, sitting quietly as a side note. Noel Wells’ directorial debut Mr. Roosevelt was the “true Austin” film fest goers should have been looking for, and while it teeters back and forth across the lines of insufferable and fantastic, Wells was able to accomplish something new.

Mr. Roosevelt is the story of a struggling twenty-something as she flounders through the LA comedy scene searching for her purpose, when tragedy strikes, forcing her to return home to Austin to deal with the aftermath. The components of the millennial struggle are all present; she’s (sort of) working in a field that’s dominated by men likely living on their parent’s dime, she has a job she vaguely works at while picking up gigs on the side, and she lives paycheck to paycheck unable to afford a roundtrip ticket and stranding herself in Austin.

In addition to directing, Wells wrote and acted in the film, playing the lead offbeat quirky girl alt-indie boys love to fantasize about. Not quite the manic-pixie dream girl, Wells is constantly on the brink of a breakdown as she deals with her loss and the stark reality of not only seeing her ex-boyfriend for the first time since their breakup, but ultimately having to stay with him and his new girlfriend due to her lack of funds.

Wells’ character Emily deals with the divide between the yuppie elite who somehow got their shit together early on in life, and the derivative Austin floaters who work their asses off for a minimal payoff, while basking in the glory of freedom. The script is smart, painting the characters into foils before breaking them down as the frauds most of them are as Emily runs the gambit of emotions that comes with dealing with loss.

Admittedly there’s a bit of an over-exaggeration concerning the Austin twenty-something life-style, but it’s pretty on point. Swimming in the greenbelt with your friends, using brunch as an excuse to get hammered (and mourn), having a giant house party where an off-beat band plays, hip coffee shops, rapidly closing neighborhood mainstays, cracked cellphone screens, gigs, side projects, day jobs, depression, anxiety, poverty, etc. Before moving to New York during her stint on Saturday Night Live Wells lived in Austin, giving a truth to her fiction that isn’t normally present in film. It’s refreshing.

Content aside, Wells shot the movie on film. Which honestly didn’t add much to the overall aesthetic, using grainy scenes as perhaps an added element that didn’t quite make its point. Sure, film is lovely and important. However, in this case it felt like a default hipster move, which was either complete genius considering the subject matter, or an oblivious assertion of its complete and utter scene kid status.

While this may not be a totally true depiction of what it’s like to live in Austin (Emily’s ex-boyfriend is a struggling musician going through relator school and manages to keep a two-bedroom house in a solid neighborhood), it is the closest the city will ever get to showing off the non-SXSW, ACL, or other festival side that the nation so readily ignores as it rolls through and destroys the landscape. While Song to Song may have been be touted as the “definitively Austin” film of the fest, it is Mr. Roosevelt that pulls ahead.

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