Directed By Scott Pryor and Gloria Stella
Starring – Scott Pryor, Livi Birch, John Schneider
The Plot – A desperate marine biker’s (Pryor) life is turned upside-down when he is united with the sassy 9-year-old daughter (Birch) he never knew existed.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some substance abuse
– Religion factor. After watching the trailer for “Tulsa”, I feel a bit misled about the finished product that I ended up with. I certainly didn’t expect an underlining emphasis on religious discussions and materials, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy what we end up with. Thankfully, the preaching and propaganda is left on the cutting room floor, instead opting for a reasonable minded approach that only brings religious material up when it absolutely needs to. Nothing is insulting or mean spirited towards the occasional atheist in the picture, instead opting for a respectable attitude towards those who are different with a message of love, warmth, and understanding, like religion rightfully should be. Is it entirely necessary to the complexion of the film? Not at all. However, if done right as it is in this case, religion can add a feeling of hope to the audience at home, and for the characters they invest in along the way.
– Salvaged dollars. It’s not often that I commend a movie for finding a way to save a buck, but the limited production values in “Tulsa” never hinder or keep it from dazzling a big screen appeal. That’s mostly because the story is so compelling and full of dramatic pulse, but nothing in the timely editing, smooth camera movements, or establishing photography elicits a feeling of overwhelming cheapness that serves as a distraction to the integrity of the presentation. Instead, it bottles an artistically independent vibe from the sum of its parts that coherently works within the elements that it has, all the while carving a soft conveyor belt consistency that never attempts being something it rightfully has no business reaching for. That much I can respect about its direction.
– Consistent humor. I’m a tough audience to begin with when it comes to comedy, but made even tougher with soft religious films whose rating continuously limits its material. Thankfully, the writing here has a knack for documenting all of life’s cute, quirky elements contained between two strangers who are forced to be a family for the first time ever. Nothing is ever too risque to compromise the cleanliness of a youthful audience, but I did appreciate a few jokes involving hidden context that only adults in the audience could properly translate. For most of my effectiveness, it’s the awkwardness that comes with Tulsa meeting her alcoholic father for the first time, and the deconstructing path that her mission takes in making him the parental unit she exceptionally deserves. It makes the most of a PG-13 rating that I’m honestly surprised it garnered, and left me with more than a few moments of humorous delight to bridge the gap between moments of somberly nerve-shattering dramatic tension.
– Unpredictability. This is the last thing I was expecting for a movie whose plot is so cookie-cutter that you feel like you’ve seen it a hundred times, and could telegraph it from a mile away. Around the halfway point, a twist takes shape with one of our lead protagonists, bringing forth an array of changes and stakes that the movie develops terrifically into manufacturing some gritty dramatic material that will have you reaching for more than just one tissue. What’s most impressive to me is that the movie doesn’t settle for the conventional route that I was honestly expecting once the gears of creativity start to turn, instead challenging the safety net of fictional storytelling with a final fifteen minutes that is one after the other in terms of bittersweet circumstance towards connecting with its audience. It sends us home in a way that makes this an unforgettable offering, and does so while sifting through the spontaneity of life that isn’t always happy endings.
– Soft touch. This is based off of a real life story that star and director Scott Pryor has lived through, and it’s one whose delicacy he preserves with personal touches and unabashed sentimentality that expresses its meaningful circumstance. This starts with something as touching as adoption between a father and daughter meeting for the first time ever, but eventually evolves into a story of drug and alcohol addiction that feels almost therapeutic in its exploration by Pryor. In fact, it’s a bit surreal to see the same man who lived through this story once bring it to life with the vulnerability of honesty that comes with exploring it for legions of people there to see the movie. It’s a brave, commendable stance that you have to applaud Pryor for, and it brings forth a growth as a director and a human being that doesn’t feel suppressed in the slightest due to the sensitivity matter of the material.
– Sloppy pacing. The movie has some serious problems within the consistency of its storytelling that often has this feeling like three different acts shaped by three different people. The first act of the movie is the highlight for me in terms of its development. Its during this period when the story introduces us and takes us through the daily routine between Tommy and Tulsa that honestly has enough to explore in keeping it from ever feeling stale or derivative between scenes. The second act takes a direct nosedive from this precedent, as here it’s when the religious elements and custody paperwork of the story start to take shape, leading us to a burdening of exposition that feels too late in the story to be introducing us to new characters and past regrets. The final act picks up a bit with the stakes and dramatic heft, but tonally it feels unlike anything else previously established into the film, and solidifies this disjointed feeling in direction that continuously halts fluidity in momentum every time it decides to switch things up.
– Musical meandering. One element of religious cliches that “Tulsa” can’t escape from is this boisterous sound mixing that the movie’s musical technicians use to harvest emotional resonance in the souls of its audience. Why this is a problem for me is it doesn’t come across as natural, nor does its levels of volume feel anything but shallow when compared to the levels during transitional times during the film. It’s obvious levels of enhancement that often override what is being presented by the captivation of the actors on-screen, and illustrates this inescapably fake essence of ambiance that washes over every meaningful scene, taking away far too much emotional resonance in the translation.
– Horrendous acting. This is the major takeaway for me; a writer and director should more times than not give the performance to someone else, and inspire them to get it right. I’m not here to trash the work of Pryor and Birch’s chemistry. They feel every bit believable as they do fluid when presented on-screen at the same time. My problem with their work is when they are separated, thus bringing forth a wooden embodiment to their respective characters that undercuts believability in each line of dialogue that they deliver. Birch’s problem is she’s that kid performance that never feels earnest in the words that are coming out of her mouth, instead feeling like an adult dwarf who has lived for forty years. For Pryor, he’s emotionally one-note when it comes to his deliveries. He tries to be charismatic in a few scenes, but they are as flat as jerky on a New York city cab driver’s ass, and just come across as more awkward than anything intended.
– Shameless plugging. This movie doesn’t have the budget to attain some big name sponsors, yet somehow finds ways to promote its own causes. This is seen through Pryor, who directed a film called “Blackbear” in 2017, and wants us to know this in the most demanding of methods. For one, a conversation between him and Birch early on supplants “Blackbear” as his character’s favorite movie after she asks him. This creates a lot of logic problems from where this film, set in the real world, stands with a film like “Blackbear” which is so clearly enriched in fiction, but beyond that feels so fake when you consider any other film in pop culture history exists, so why pick “Blackbear”. I digress. He then is sported about midway through the film wearing a “Blackbear” t-shirt, and this is when I lost it on this guy. Not since Lars Von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built” included scenes from his previous films have I been this disturbed by shameless self-promotion. It reeks of desperation in the worst kind of ways, and has me curious if there’s any more inserts that I may have missed that would tickle Pryor enough to include.
– Sketchy audio deposits. There is the occasional error in sound synching between what we hear audibly and the mouth movements of the actors they accommodate. This only happens a couple of times throughout the movie, so not a terrible offense, but enough of one that occasionally creeps into the scene of dialogue exchanges, continuously breaking my investment into the heat of the scene each time it becomes obvious. Part of the problem feels to me like errors by the actor in lines of dialogue that they deliver. I say this because the lips of the actors often look like they’re mouthing something entirely different than what is intended, which only stands as a testament to my problems with the casting in the first place. In the real world, mistakes happen, however the way they’re fixed speaks volumes to the level of professionalism of everyone on deck, and in that regards we’re being sold a bill of goods by what feels like first time politicians.
My Grade: 5/10 or D