We Washingtonians, even over here in Spokane, don't give much thought to the Yakima Valley. We know it's somewhere in the middle of the state and we're thankful for its hops, but it's mostly out of sight, out of mind.
Maybe that's a shame, because the region serves as a weirdly beautiful backdrop to Cement Suitcase, a quirky indie comedy making its way around the film festival circuit and premiering locally next week. This isn't to say that Yakima, and specifically the tiny town of Granger, in which the film is set, is particularly alluring. In this movie, though, the rolling, semi-desert landscape and blue skies play well aside the hilarity and heartbreak found in the work of first-time writer-director J. Rick Castaneda, who grew up in Granger.
Cement Suitcase focuses almost exclusively on Franklin (a talented Dwayne Bartholomew) a hapless twentysomething who lives in his dead mother's house, drives a beater car, has about a hundred bucks in his bank account, but is an excellent salesman at one of the Yakima Valley's many wineries. The trouble is, he hates his job. And his girlfriend (played by E! News correspondent Kristina Guerrero, a native of nearby Sunnyside) is cheating on him. He's aware of that because he has inadvertently become golfing buddies with the other man. And his mother's house is nearly in foreclosure, so he's suddenly burdened with an outlandish Australian roommate.
As Franklin tries — or at least thinks about trying — to get his life together, Castaneda loads the film with stylistic flair. These montages, animation and breaking down of the fourth wall (Franklin talks into the camera whenever he damn well pleases) make Cement Suitcase rise above other goofball comedies about down-on-their-luck dudes. Sometimes these tricks can feels gratuitous, maybe even a bit distracting. Thankfully, the performances here are refreshingly funny and honest — especially that of Shawn Parsons as the good-guy golf pro who is unknowingly stealing Franklin's girlfriend — so things always keep moving.
Cement Suitcase is sleek and attractive in its presentation — not something we'd expect to come out of the relatively desolate middle of our state — and heartfelt and funny in its storytelling. Who knows? It might just have you planning a long weekend in Yakima. ♦
Screening Thu, March 20 at 7:30 pm • AMC River Park Square 20 • $9 • Tickets available only at tugg.com