If desperation were a living, breathing being, it would probably be addicted to crack. We’ve seen it all before, either on film or in real life, the perpetual spiral of manipulation and self-delusion to satisfy a hunger that can’t be satisfied, except maybe for a few quiet moments in some dark cubby behind a stairwell. The indie film Acts of Worship is nothing new — in fact it’s already a few years old — but its heart is in the right place and its cinematic eye shows future promise.
You can tell writer, director and producer Rosemary Rodriguez’s first shot at the screen is based on her own experience with addiction. Something about the film’s gritty realism interlaced with empathetic touches sends the I lived this! message out as Alix (Ana Reeder) traverses New York City looking for her next heavenly high.
Snapshots at the start show that Alix comes from a loving, middle-class family. That’s all forgotten as the camera jerks us to her present existence, scrambling and grabbing at whatever’s within reach to barter for a temporary peace that either runs up her arm or into her mouth.
Rodriguez depicts addicts as a sea of agitated vultures haunting the streets. Her camera is cramped and closed in on the action just like a junkie’s closed-in world, only capable of focusing on what’s immediately at hand — a constricted day-to-day, hand-to-mouth perspective. Her successful cinematic choices are counteracted by character confrontations forced to move too quickly and predictable plot turns. When ex-addict Digna (Michael Hyatt), now a sought-after photographer, takes Alix under her wing, it doesn’t take much insight to know what’s going through Alix’s mind as she looks at Digna’s camera collection.
The acting isn’t bad, but if it were stronger it might have masked the thin parts of the script and the force-fed irony without leaving a bad taste. Rodriguez’s filmmaking weaknesses are earmarks of inexperience that could be remedied by the time she finishes her next project, especially if she picks a topic not so close to home to allow her more room for objectivity.
We all have our little addictions, some not so little. Despite its anemic moments, Acts of Worship manages to leave you with a valuable riddle: If you can’t believe other people can be saved and change, how can you believe there’s hope for yourself?
Opens March 19 at the Madstone Theatre, 462 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor. Call 734-994-1000 or 734-994-5521. Most films in the Premier Pic series run for only one week. Following Acts of Worship is Tycoon: A New Russian; American Astronaut; The Flower of Evil; Rana’s Wedding; and Made Up.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].