by Sherry Lipp
When is it time to give up on your dreams? The indie film Ingenious, directed by Jeff Balsmeyer, tells us never, no matter how far the chips are down. The film stars Dallas Roberts (The Grey, 3:10 to Yuma) and Jeremy Renner as struggling novelty item inventors searching for their big break. Ingenious hit the film festival circuit in early 2009, a few short months before Renner began getting notice (and an eventual Oscar nomination) for his performance in The Hurt Locker. Renner’s rising fame was apparently not enough to land the film in theaters at the time, but the filmmakers have started a grass roots campaign to change that. It would be a shame if the film doesn’t find an audience because Ingenious is definitely worth watching. It’s inspirational without being corny and features fine performances by its two leads.
Screenwriter Mike Cram based the story on his real life exploits as a novelty item inventor and salesman. Roberts plays Matt, who runs a novelty item business with his partner and friend, Sam (Renner). Matt and Sam’s bread and butter are dog watches that show what dogs dream about as the seconds click by. While making a few sales here and there, the watch is not a big enough seller to put them over the top. Unfortunately they can’t sell more watches without offering a more diverse selection (their watches all display the same breed, while buyers want the top 20), but they can’t produce more watches unless they make more money. It’s a real catch-22. In desperation they turn to gambling, and that’s when things really take a downturn. As Matt’s life spirals out of control, he knows he needs to come up with an idea that is a guaranteed seller.
I won’t spoil the fun of the film by saying what his “ingenious” invention is, or whether it is even successful or not. The invention itself is not the essence of this film. The heart of the film is Matt and Sam’s determination, even when it seems like all hope is lost. What Matt and Sam fear is losing control of their own destiny. They feel they are meant for something more and refuse to let go of that thought, even when their dream seems impossible. The film is also touching on an emotional level. Matt’s relationship with his wife (Ayelet Zurer, Superman’s mom in the upcoming Man of Steel) suffers through his professional failures, and the couple must decide if their marriage can weather the storm. Matt and Sam are at odds as friends and business partners. Neither can separate their feelings of friendship from the needs of the business.
Renner and Roberts have a great, natural chemistry as longtime buddies. Their friendship felt totally real and their bantering adds a lot of humor to the film. Roberts’ Matt is the emotional anchor of the film, while Renner adds a spark as the loose cannon Sam. Sam is someone who doesn’t seem to ever want to be tied down to anything, while Matt wants stability. They both want to be their own boss, which is a kind of meeting-in-the-middle for them. When Matt is fed up with everything, Sam is already developing the next idea for them to try. Conversely, Matt is there to bring Sam back down to earth when his ideas are a little too far out. Both actors do a great idea of not slipping into clichés and keeping their characters believable.
Overall, Ingenious is a very enjoyable film with great performances. Hopefully the filmmakers will reach their goal of putting this film in theaters. To help the filmmakers reach their goal of a theatrical release, visit their Kickstarter page.