Editor’s Note: Life In Color is now available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.
One of the great pleasures of cinema is that repeated viewings can give way to new gems and intriguing layers dwelling within the very fabric of the film. I first saw Katharine Emmer’s Life in Color last year at SXSW, where I praised it for exceptional acting and well-written characters despite its familiar plot. A second viewing almost 11 months to the day after first viewing the film revealed just how brilliant and intimate the writing itself is. Without it, the characters and the actors portraying them would not shine as bright as they do.
Life In Color marks an incredible debut by Katharine Emmer, who in addition to writing and directing the film also serves as the its star, editor and producer. The comparisons to other artists like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers aren’t just obvious; they’re well-deserved. Emmer’s film exudes a confidence and dedication only seen in the most promising of debuts.
Emmer plays Mary, who works a mirthless job as a nanny to children she despises. Costar Josh McDermitt plays Homer, a struggling comedian taking jobs as a birthday clown. Abruptly out of work and nowhere to go, the two find themselves stuck house-sitting together. The chemistry between the film’s two stars is natural and entertaining, with Emmer’s writing deftly revealing more facets and sides to her characters in a way that keeps the audience engaged throughout.
Emmer employs the most minimalist of plots here. Most of the driving force here is Homer’s desire to enter a standup comedy competition, with the rest dedicated almost purely to character moments. The film never exactly stalls because of this, but at times Life In Color spends a bit too much time treading water when it could be confidently swimming in the deep end. Luckily, an eclectic group of side characters sprinkled throughout the film helps keep the treading to a minimum.
Fortune Feimster’s performance as a fellow comic doesn’t even feel like acting, boosting the naturalism that makes the film so enjoyable. Jim O’Heir makes a brief appearance in a role that in a larger film would be criticized as stunt casting, but fits in perfectly here and is expertly utilized in the world that Katharine Emmer has created. The biggest standout by far in the film’s supporting cast is Adam Lustick as the neurotic, overly energetic friend. Lustick is simultaneously hilarious and annoying, a hard combination to play to success. I hope this won’t be the last I see of him.
Life In Color’s biggest key to success is its ability to mix comedy and drama in a way that works. Mixing comedy with heavy subjects like depression and unrealized dreams could have easily been a recipe for disaster, but Emmer melds the two to create an environment that plays out in a believable and natural way. There are dozens of instances where the deadpan humor and one-liners bring down the house. In the same way, Emmer’s use of a backstory or single line of dialogue provides incredible dramatic catharsis.
By the time the film came to close, I found myself wanting to know about Mary. I would have loved to see Mary be given a big cathartic moment like Homer is given with his father. The flash forward in the film’s final moments skips over such a moment. We learn about Homer through his interactions with other characters, but Mary isn’t really given anyone else to bounce off of outside Homer. Her character is very guarded by nature, so a way to help bring out more sides to her may have better added to her journey. That’s not to say in any way that the scenes between Mary and Homer are revelatory in their own way. They are. There’s lots to love here.
Despite its dark material, there’s a wonderful elation flowing off the screen by the time the credits begin to roll. With her first film, Katharine Emmer has emerged as an exciting and incredibly talented voice. She has a knack for comedy, but she stages hard-hitting drama just as efficiently. Life In Color gives us two incredibly unique and interesting characters, and surrounds them with people that are just as fascinating. I’m sure they won’t be her last.
Life In Color’s biggest key to success is its ability to mix comedy and drama in a way that works. Mixing comedy with heavy subjects like depression and unrealized dreams could have easily been a recipe for disaster, but Emmer melds the two to create an environment that plays out in a believable and natural way.