Valerie Brandy makes her feature debut with a film both written and directed by the young starlet. With some impressive performances by an all-round cast, it’s nice to know that independent cinema isn’t dead. An interesting, well produced piece brings together drama, heartache and passion in a genre that’s forever pushing the boundaries for young filmmakers.
Following a small stint in jail, Lola (Valerie Brandy) picks up and begins her life again, hoping to forget her past and restart the clock all the while compiling her last letter to long, lost pen pal Henry. With best friend Ree (Annamarie Kenoyar) and new boyfriend Sam (Travis Quentin Young), Lola finds out just how hard it is to move on when the past hasn’t been resolved.
A few months ago we got to talk to writer/director Valerie Brandy on the project and it’s clear that all her influences are present during its 85 minute run time. Mentioning to us that one of her favourite films of all time is Spike Jonze’s, ‘Adaptation’, you can definitely tell the direction ‘Lola’s last letter’ was trying to go in. Heavily influenced by Jonze style, the camera work is reminiscent of ‘Her’, with some beautiful passing shots, interesting use of camera lens and succinct focus of human expression. One scene in particular features Lola and Sam outside on a cliff edge, the camera covering the eye-pleasing landscape of their location as well as simple character interaction.
Frustratingly however, it’s only these relationships between characters that keep you gripped rather than the central story. The friendship between Ree and Lola seems genuine and the growing romance between Lola and Sam is developed well, it’s just a shame that the main story isn’t developed a little more. It’s all very well popping a Xanax and crying into the camera every so often, but after a while it just feels like a fleeting attempt at giving depth to a character rather than providing an interesting angle.
Although a little undeveloped in some areas, Lola’s Last Letter does fit quite nicely on the shelf of independent cinema. It brings a real, genuine feel to the characters, similar to other independent films such as Once, In Search Of A Midnight Kiss and even last years Under the Skin. It’s this reality that young filmmakers need to capture to be successful and one that Valerie Brandy has caught quite well on tape.
The whole ensemble give a solid performance, a rarity in many independent films today, the sheer importance a performance has for this type of production. A key quiver in Lola’s Last Letter’s bow is the real-life friendship between actresses Annamarie Kenoyar and Valerie Brandy. The off-screen relationship helps blossom the bond between the two characters Lola and Ree on screen to deliver a believable and relatable friendship between two friends.
Overall, Valerie Brandy has done a decent job on her first attempt. Not without its minor faults, its magic comes to the fore with well-balanced character interaction and meaningful relationships rather than following through on what could ultimately be described as the backbone’ of the story. If the young director can take this skill through to her other projects, there is a chance we could see some great projects coming our way in the future!
Ian M: 3.5 out of 5
Ian C: 4 out of 5