Local filmmaker Ryan Thomas Andersen has completed his long anticipated feature ‘IMperfect’ and premiered his film to a sold out audience at the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival. If you’re not familiar with Andersen’s story, he is the filmmaker who won the 2014 ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ commercial competition with his ‘Time Machine’ entry. After writing FOR DEPOSIT ONLY on his giant cardboard novelty check for one million dollars, Andersen vowed to use his winnings to make a feature length film in Arizona that would employ a local cast and crew. Andersen kept his word, and three years later ‘IMperfect’ is ready for moviegoers as it embarks on its film festival run.
A VHS-looking commercial advertises the joy children can have when they create the ‘Perfect Arcadia.’ The toy comes with everything the children need, all they have to do is push a button and watch it happen. From there, we zoom through the galaxy, arriving at earth and zeroing in on a suburban Arcadia Arizona birthday party for little Olivia (Ellie Tollefson). Fashion photographer dad Marcas (Robert Rodenbach) is proudly snapping away while doting mom and devoted wife Chloe (Tiana Masaniai) gets the birthday cake ready. A rude parent inquires if Marcas will be seeking a refund for his daughter after a classroom outburst, while two children tease Olivia and call her a mistake. Before the cake is even cut, Marcas gets a phone call from an old flame that forces him to leave the party prematurely. As he drives to his hastily arranged rendezvous, a flood of memories recalls the events in his life leading up to this moment. Specifically, his struggle to have a child. Unable to conceive on their own, Chloe and Marcas have paid handsomely for the services of the biotech company ‘Ideally Made’ and its founder, Dr. Harttron (played by the late Pete Kelly). Having genetically engineered Olivia to be the ‘perfect’ child from a shopping list of positive traits, Marcas’s world rapidly begins to unravel as he realizes that all he has successfully created is a perfect mess of his life, and a bio-manufactured daughter that will forever fall under scrutiny and ridicule.
Director Andersen certainly rolled lucky seven’s in his casting for IMperfect, investing in two relative newcomers embarking on their first foray into indie features. Rodenbach delivers a mildly melancholy, soft spoken Marcas completely absorbed in providing his wife with the perfect life. At times, his delivery is almost inaudible making the transformation of his character seem inconsistent. Tiana Masaniai as Chloe is also a contradiction and infused contrast that she portrays quite well in this film. Masaniai presents an awkwardly flawed Chloe; clearly a bright, successful and self sufficient woman on her own, yet struggling to convert her desire for maternal fulfillment into true emotional, visceral completion. Props have to go to both actors for tuning into the essence of their portrayals in this film; a mild dysthymia void of passion, with stilted displays of affection. Ellie Tollefson checks in as Olivia, portraying just a hint of some ‘Village Of The Damned’ snarkiness and just the right degree of creepy disconnect the film sets us up to expect from the manufactured child. Director Andersen wisely and boldly breaks the three minute rule in a pivotal scene as the childless couple meet in the ‘blueprint room’ with Dr. Harttron. As the specifics of their choices become more difficult, the film takes a very serious and dark tone. The harshness of pre-destiny, and the futility of programmed perfection becomes abundantly clear. It is the cognitive use of the immediate resources that really makes this film stand out from other locally made indies. Although taking place at some foreseeable future time, Andersen avoids overloading the film with futuristic FX and instead, focuses on practical, plausible advances such as completely transparent cell phones (good luck finding that when it’s misplaced!) and subtle hints at techno-mandated corporate conformity.
From the very moment IMperfect begins, we are aware that everything we see will be under our closest scrutiny. Peering into the petri dish of indiscernible goo that will eventually differentiate into the Perfect Arcadia, we focus in on a future humanoid population obsessed with perfection. Love and affection rarely enter the picture, as Marcas’s vow to Chloe skips the emotional standards, promising instead to provide her the perfect life. The story of manipulating genetics and the forces of the universe to bolster a future perfect is really mere window dressing in this film. We are attracted to the glittery storefront and all of it’s enticing wares, but Andersen continually reminds us that we can only admire the inventory from behind the glass. Much of the film takes place observationally, the human interaction being conducted in front of us at a safe distance. Often the dialog is delivered from behind glass, through bedroom windows or hovering high above in free floating discorporation as adults tryst in the orange and purple neon of their primal DNA. The overall voyeuristic theme of IMperfect is excellent and intentional, illustrating the strong, intimate aversion Director Andersen has to a lifetime of scrutiny. The film also provides a periscope to a future imperfect. Mildly Orwellian recurring corporate logo’s appear everywhere. Big Brother indeed exists, but only peripherally, innocuously. Freely brought into the home in a child’s game or an entertaining phone app.
While the film could easily fall into the category of the visions of a flawed future, there is certainly much more going on here. A shaking fist at those who have dictated to the aspiring director the proper course of his life, now or since childhood. But more than that, the film conveys an odd, almost indiscernible frustration with the mechanics of conception. It’s the system that has seemed to work all these years and it’s the one we are stuck with. IMperfect is more of an examination, an observation. A very personal letter written by director Ryan Thomas Andersen as a love letter to his benefactors, and a poison pen to his detractors.
Final Take – Rage against the baby machine.
Genetic engineering for the perfect child creates an imperfect future for everybody.