The word "almost," by definition, dials down expectation. Being "almost famous" or "almost successful" relegates something or someone to popular culture's second tier. I must admit to being less than enthusiastic about Almosting It, the feature film debut from writer/director/actor and Boise-native Will von Tagen. Sure, most of us love to champion a hometown hero but, quite frankly, once you get past a feel-good local biography, it is often that a film ultimately outlasts its filmmaker.
So, dear moviegoers, I'm happy to report that Almosting It is a rather grand piece of entertainment and forecasts bigger things from von Tagen down the road. I sensed a natural comic rhythm early in this nicely-paced 96-minute comedy and approximately one-third of the way in, I discovered a true affinity for the film's well developed characters. By its midway point, Almosting It had cleared the "almost" hurdle and was sailing effortlessly toward being a genuine pleasure.
Sitting with von Tagen in the lobby of a Boise theater where he and some fellow filmmakers had just watched their effort on the big screen for the first time, Boise Weekly put von Tagen to the test by asking for a rapid-fire capsule of his film's plot—the Hollywood cliche is that a movie pitch to a studio executive must be 10 seconds long or less:
"With the help of a retirement home playboy Chet, played by Lee Majors, a dissatisfied young sci-fi writer, Ralph, works to better his life while simultaneously navigating his relationships with three very different women," von Tagen said without missing a beat.
"This movie could turn out to be a good little film," Majors told BW in the summer of 2014. The veteran actor—perhaps best known for his role as Steve Austin in the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man—was in Boise for principal shooting around the Treasure Valley, with a number of local landmarks serving as backdrops: Zoo Boise, The Record Exchange, The Owyhee, Tenth Street Station and the Municipal Pool.
"We shot the film in 24 days last summer," von Tagen said, adding that he wanted to break from the traditional indie formula of using a few stationary sets and employing a minimal cast.
"We have a pretty good sized cast and used a lot of extras. And yes, there's a lot of Boise in the movie, but I don't think it ever distracts from the story," he said.
Idaho moviegoers should have a blast playing their own makeshift version of Boise bingo by identifying all of the local gems in Almosting It. My favorite is a particularly lovely scene shot in and around Rediscovered Books during a near-perfect snowfall. Von Tagen said he shot the footage on Boise's Eighth Street last December.
Ultimately, Almosting It's greatest strength is its character development. Let's face it: We've been down this rom-com road before. Hollywood has pushed out a string of mindless comedies with a 20-something male lead pinballing his way around various, often stereotypical, women. What makes Almosting It unique is how its three female leads, played by Jessica Sulikowski (Quinn), Cassandra Lewis (Maggie) and Annie Bulow (Lorane) are so completely realized. Perhaps most importantly, von Tagen's turn as Ralph, the male protagonist, is defined as much by the women he doesn't choose as the woman he ultimately ends up with. It's smart screenwriting and the outcome is that much more satisfying.
All three leading ladies shine in Almosting It, so extra kudos go to von Tagen for not trying to crowd out their energy by making his screenplay too Ralph-centric. Sulikowski, a dancer with Ballet Idaho for the past seven seasons, is new to feature films. Her finely nuanced performance as Quinn won't be her last.
"I don't even know where to begin with Jess. She knocked it out of the park. Everything about what she brings—energy and willingness—was so giving and committed in every way," said von Tagen of his co-star. "I sat down with Jess over a beer at Pengilly's. We talked about the project, shot a screen test, and I gave her a script. She came back with so many notes that her script was falling apart; I had to bind the next copy with spirals."
Sulikowski, upon seeing herself on the big screen for the first time at a sneak-peek screening, told BW, "It doesn't seem real. Going into the project, I knew that I had to work hard but put 100 percent trust in Will, the cast and crew. It was the only way I could think about approaching this."