Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Movie(-ish) Night: The Booth at the End

I was going to review the Hunger Games film today, but I have more to say about The Booth at the End, so HG will have to wait until tomorrow.

This isn't technically a movie. It's a series of five twenty-three minute episodes, which are best watched back to back. So it doesn't have to be watched as a movie, but it's better that way.

The premise: Somewhere in America (or maybe in Canada, where filming took place, but in any case somewhere in the English-speaking world) is a diner. Sitting in a solitary booth in the corner is a man with a notebook. He sits there all day, from the time the diner opens to the time it closes. And all day, people come to him, because they've heard that this man has a gift: he can make whatever you desire happen. But there's a price. Before this man will do something for you, you have to do something for him. It may be something small, or it may be something large, but it will always be something you don't want to do. And until it's done, you must return to him frequently, and keep him appraised of your progress. The series follows the stories of several people and their interactions with the man with the notebook, as they are forced to confront just how far they will go to get what they want.

The plot plays out pretty much as you'd expect: what seems at first to be a series of unrelated vignettes evolves as the storylines converge and overlap. And, yes, a lot of it is predictable. Wish-granter stories are very old, and 99% of what can be done with them has been done. But even old stories can be invigorated by a fresh approach or good execution. The Booth at the End has both, and thus elevates itself above its worn premise magnificently.

Cyna, a friend of mine who I have mentioned before, is always grumbling about books that tell instead of show. This film might make her twitch, because the central conceit -- the camera never leaves the diner, and every scene takes place in The Man's booth -- means that the entire plot is the characters telling The Man what they need or what they've done. It works, though. It gives the production a kind of low-budget indie-film vibe, and transforms what could have been a cheesy morality play into an unflinching, character-driven study of human nature. The actors are all relative unknowns*, but iMDB profiles reveal respectable careers in small film roles and TV, and it shows. With literally the entire series standing on the strength of their performances, they rise to the occasion with top-notch work.

(*- Well, unknowns to me, but that might very well mean that I know jack shit about actors. Timothy Omudson of Psych is here, and fans of the Twilight films - I know you read my blog - might notice Sarah Clarke (Bella's mom) playing a nun in the midst of a crisis of faith.)

Perhaps the most memorable character in the series is The Man himself. There are a number of stock portrayals of this sort of character: mysterious but ultimately benevolent; manipulative and deceitful; playful trickster-god. Or make him a complete cipher, a living plot device rather than a true character. The Man is none of these. He veers towards one or the other occasionally, but as the stories unfold, we start to realize that The Man is just that: a man. He may make a show of his seeming omniscience sometimes, but in the end he's not omniscient, possibly not even supernatural. He's just another pawn on the board, an intermediary between his clients and who or whatever is truly making the magic happen. His job is a blessing and a curse, to sit in his booth all day and behold the best and worst of humanity.

The Booth at the End was apparently created specifically for Hulu, and is streamed there 100% free and legal. I highly recommend taking two hours to watch them straight through, it's damn fine bit of low-budget film that spotlights a cast with talent far exceeding their fame.


  1. Hahah, funny that you mention this - I actually have seen much of it (but not the last ep of the first season, I think? What a place to stop) and I actually did enjoy it :D

    But re: tell not show - I knew what Booth at the End was going in. Guy at a Diner, makes you do things you don't want. Didn't expect much, so the telling isn't so much an issue. Difference being this series knows what it and and what it's doing. In the case of most books where tell not show is a problem...not so much ;D

    Glad you got around to seeing this one though :D

  2. Truth told, I only said that so I could lead in to talking about how important cast is to a production like this. ^_^

    But, yeah, it's pretty awesome, and why the hell did you quit on it just before the last episode? Get back there and finish what you started, girl! ~_^


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