Written by Dan Hollis
This fish-out-of-water slacker comedy set over the 2008 US election, tracks the misfired adventure of Max, a trendier than thou post-grad Brooklyn boy, through Jamaica. After being dumped in the first five minutes by his out-of-his-league girlfriend, Willow â€“ a very brief cameo from Norah Jones â€“ Max is stumped as to what to do with his other ticket for the Caribbean cruise he has recently won. Unable to persuade any of his friends (all of whom appear to be American Apparel models), he goes it alone. It’s not long before he realises that he is by far the youngest passenger aboard by at least forty years. After milking the cruiser for any and all of it’s potential fun, Max begins to fester in his room, trapped with the nostalgic memories of lovely, unappreciated Willow.
When he arrives in Jamaica, Max bolts off the boat with bright-eyed curiosity, keen to explore the island and it’s treasures, but when he is tricked, robbed, and left only with the modest beige swim shorts he has on, he faces a journey he wasn’t bargaining for. Inland, to Kingston and to the salvation of the American Embassy Max must proceed.
The filmÂ has no real moral lesson behind it, apart, perhaps, not to take for granted your own sense of security and belonging. It is simply just a fantastic narrative wonderfully told which is why it understandably took the Best Narrative Feature prize at this year’s LA Film Festival.
Sean Bones who plays Max is extremely likeable. Unlike the chiselled leads we might expect for a role like this, (Emile Hirsch you might compare, this being a far less poignant Into The Wild), Bones, who has more than a touch of Napoleon Dynamite mouth-gape about it him, is very endearing. As his luck goes from bad to worse, you truly feel for the guy.
A debut collaboration from Sam Fleischner and Ben Chace, Wah Do Dem is daring, witty and very, very cool. Shot largely with handheld camera, often in an inconspicuous way that would suggest that many of the extras might not have been entirely aware they were being filmed, this at times feels like an amateur documentary. Max’s efforts to learn a little patois from some of the islanders affords a lot of comedy â€“ wah gwaan indeed â€“ but wherever there is comedy, there is also menace, threat and darker consequence. However, this always comes full circle back into comic relief, sustaining an enjoyable overall pitch.
From the heart of the film, serene, often trance-like beats, rootsy reggae and gentle dub, pulse rhythmically through the salty Caribbean air and flow fluently into your own peaceful orbit. In a particularly surreal night-time excursion, Max wanders hypnotically in a heightened state of consciousness towards the distant lure of pattering drums and a haunting, elegiac, syrupy song. He finds himself before seven or eight grey-bearded, amply-dreaded gentlemen jamming mournfully in the still night air. You feel like you’ve shared a bit of this strange but somehow cleansing experience.
This is the kind of film I wish I had been a part of â€“ it really looks like it was a hell of a lot of fun to make; it’s original, fresh and it seems to fizz with a vibrant, condensed essence of its time. The backdrop of Obama’s ascendancy to presidency provides a wonderfully exciting and momentous backdrop to this clever and, yes I’ll say it again, very cool film.
Wah Do Dem was screened as part of the London Film Festival.
Last edited: 16th October 2009
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