I remember a boy who complained that living in the middle class, safe town of Holmdel, New Jersey (right off Exit 117), we were experiencing nothing of import. He denounced his family’s wealth; he dropped out of high school, because in order to really know anything, you must know tragedy, poverty, drugs. Later—particularly while reading up on the Beat Generation—I found myself nearly agreeing, regretting my normal past that lacked extremes. I eventually began thinking it had to be sad to be beautiful—whether it was music, literature, film.
Exit 117, a low budget feature film written and directed by twenty-one-year-old Kevin McMullin, was shot in the summer of 2009. The actors were non-actors who had once performed in the same high school plays: kids who went on to study education, political science, and music. Sean Emer, the DP, was also a Holmdel grad. The set was comprised of Kevin’s basement, a driveway, a basketball court. And yet, this film is not a complaint about the lackluster life of New Jersey teens. It is almost the opposite. It is art.
Kevin’s film, which premiered recently at the Cinequest Film Festival, is certainly one of beauty—though not of sadness. There is whiny teenage angst, Kevin admits, almost shamefully, but notes under his breath that it wouldn’t really be about teenagers if there wasn’t. Our heartbreaks may have been small comparably—our triumphs, our longings—but there they were. The familiar lives of Kevin’s characters are not set in insipid, prudish Holmdel (and surrounding towns), but a visually stunning place—perhaps, how I might dream of my childhood, my home, when distance from it increases. The music of Jonah Delso, chosen by Coldplay to be the opener for their Wachovia Center show in 2008, helps Kevin portray a kind of wonderland despite the characters’ boredom, their desire to leave, the abundance of the f-word. The very ordinary moments of growing up are somehow made rare, meaningful; I realize I really did feel something.
Exit 117 received notable respect in San Jose and will be shown at the Atlanta Film Festival in April, but sooner at the Garden State Film Festival on March 27th. This film is worth seeing if you’re in the area. More so, Kevin is a filmmaker to look out for. He is in the process of making another film, which he describes as a “fairytale about people learning how to fall in love.”
Bio: Kristen Brunelli is an intern at Guernica. Read her last recommendation of the novel Jim the Boy here.