United States. Directed by Jason Banker, 2014. Starring Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley, Roxanne Knause. 80 minutes.
There’s no such thing as “just” a movie. Each film says something about its creators and the culture they came from: what they loved and hated, what scared them, what worried them. Deeper meaning even exists in those works created by those who claim none exist; the very fact that they made such a film only considering surface concerns says a lot about them. So what does Felt say about its creators, director/co-writer Jason Banker and co-writer/star Amy Everson?
Everson stars as Amy (a sinking feeling begins to set in), a young artist recovering from a serious traumatic experience, never actually described but symbolically indicated as rape. This trauma causes her art and her behavior to take on a somewhat eccentric, darker cast, and she particularly fixates on body image; she crafts for herself bodysuits featuring exaggerated prosthetic genitals.
Felt doesn’t have much of a plot, largely following Amy from situation to situation: she joins on online dating service and goes on a date with a man who claims there’s no such thing as rohypnol; she argues with her best friend Alanna (Alanna Reynolds, and that sinking feeling just became more of a gnaw); she pranks a photographer who hires her as a nude model. Her behavior seems to stabilize when she meets Kenny (Kentucky Audler, proving my suspicion that Felt will turn out to be one of those movies) and becomes involved with him. But I’m not spoiling anything by saying that Kenny isn’t quite the stand-up guy he seems.
As with his previous project, Toad Road, Banker seems to have a point he–along with Everson–wants to make, but I can’t figure out what that is. Synopses of Felt describe it as “taking a full-on swing at” rape culture (according to the IMDB synopsis provided by its distributor). A few of the episodes do touch on rape culture or patriarchy in general, but others are harder to figure out: for example, Amy rolling around on a bed, wearing a pair of nylon shorts with an oversized plush vagina sewn to them, making fart and scat jokes. If there’s a through-line connecting these episodes other than “men are jerks” I can’t figure out what it is.
The other major problem with Toad Road also manifests itself in Felt: Banker seems to want to populate the film with figures who seem more “real” because of his faux-verité style and his cast’s lack of affectation. But he and the actors try too hard, and the harder they try, the harder I find it to believe that the characters didn’t just wink into existence the minute the story required them. As with Toad Road, the script defines most characters by their unpleasantness, and those that aren’t possess so little personality that they can’t be related to (particularly Kenny, who’s just so blandly nice you just know he’s hiding something devastating).
The sole exception is Amy, whose behavior is so eccentric and bizarre that she doesn’t even seem to inhabit the same universe as the rest of the characters, and I utterly failed to engage with her. I feel a bit bad for saying this, because it’s clear from just watching the film that Everson poured a lot of herself into Amy, and research I did after watching Felt seems to imply that the barrier between actress and role is even thinner than I’d initially thought. While naming Kenny after Kentucker Audley and Alanna after Alanna Reynolds seems a tired gimmick, Amy Everson legitimately plays herself to a degree. But in the end I still don’t feel like I received much insight into either Amy or Everson, and what little I did get came from the promotional synopses, not the film itself.
While Felt has a few effective moments, ultimately I found it a confusing and barely coherent mess. I don’t mind thought-provoking films, but I walked away from this one feeling that Banker and Everson intended to provoke more thought than they actually did. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not in any hurry to watch it again or recommend it to others.