Here in the late 2010’s, things have seemingly changed dramatically. For people in their 20’s and 30’s, it’s difficult to figure out the next stage in life as every job market becomes more saturated with young professionals. Even college graduates aren’t guaranteed jobs in their field due to the sheer volume of competition. This leaves so many in this age group in limbo with a lack of direction. For others, a lack of focus and dedication can also hamper any chance of landing a dream job. At its core, writer/director Alex Magaña’s debut feature, 29 to Life, tackles these ideas with comedy and playfulness at its forefront.
The film stars Murphy Patrick Martin as Barnaby AKA Arnie, a 29 year old slacker who’s dumped by his girlfriend, Elaina (Hayley Ambriz). Arnie’s parents cut him off as well and refuse to let him move back into their home which causes Arnie to live in his car. Out of food and showering at the beach, Arnie decides to hit his high school reunion for a meal. Here, he runs into his old friend, Madison (Diana Solis), who’s more than happy to see him. The two quickly rekindle a friendship and Madison does her best to help him rediscover his passion for cooking.
In terms of story, there isn’t anything new about 29 to Life but that’s not really a bad thing. The film is character driven and the situation that Arnie finds himself in is relatable for anyone in the 20’s and 30’s age bracket. As both schooling and the cost of living skyrocket, there are many that come to a crossroads in their lives. With nothing to show for the time put into potential careers and passions, there’s a harsh realization that these things may not come as easy as imagined. With Arnie living in his car, scrounging for food, and lacking any semblance of direction, his situation is a little more believable than some may think.
Technically speaking, 29 to Life is a very nicely made film. It kicks off with some pretty bird’s eye view type of shots over the sprawling city. The camerawork is sharp and the editing mostly has a good flow. There are a few shots that stick out but nothing too major overall. In the first act of the movie especially, there’s a ton of music. All of the songs work well with the events depicted onscreen but there may be just a little too much. In addition, one of the songs is used more than once which becomes a little distracting. Ultimately, there are things that could be cleaned up but nothing that hurts the film either.
Oddly enough, the characters both make and break the film. Diana Solis is the absolute highlight. Her portrayal of Madison is down to earth and as charming as can be. As you learn more about her character in her interactions with Arnie, you feel for her as a viewer. Madison is adorably wonderful and has had her own share of poor luck in the past which people may also relate to. As a friend to Arnie, she chooses to be encouraging and helpful to someone who, frankly, doesn’t really deserve her support.
Murphy Patrick Martin in the lead role is the opposite. Martin’s performance isn’t necessarily bad but the character is written in such an unlikable way. His attempts at comedy are poor and downright horrible at times. He’s supposed to be somewhat of a buffoon but the way he treats some of the other characters just comes off as rude. In one scene, he basically crushes Madison in one of her most vulnerable moments. Quickly, you begin to understand why Elaina dumped him and why his parents won’t allow him back into their house. Again, the character is meant to provide comedy while also being relatable. Instead, he’s so unlikable at times that he undoes many of the good things in the film.
Going hand in hand with Martin’s Arnie is the comedy itself. Many of the jokes are just plain bad. Arnie’s idea of funny is often tasteless and, again, he’s just a hindrance to everyone around him. Some of the jokes stem from Arnie’s stupidity which can sometimes work. However, as has been established, the character is so unlikable most of the time that he doesn’t come off as funny. He’s just infuriating. Though, the film isn’t completely devoid of laughs, sometimes the characters (usually Arnie) will kill a good joke by drawing it out longer than needed. Fortunately, the film does land some good comedy in a handful of spots that become some of its most memorable moments.
29 to Life isn’t a bad film by any means but it has its issues. Most of the issues stem from the flawed main character. Again, it may not necessarily be the actor’s fault in this regard. It may have more to do with the writing of said character. What’s most unfortunate is that it feels like the film has something to say about getting older in today’s society. Yet, the wrong type of character was written to channel these ideas. Luckily, Diana Solis saves the day with her lovable portrayal of Madison. At times, Madison even makes Arnie bearable. With Solis’s performance and some good production value, Alex Magaña’s 29 to Life is a decent watch. Sure, it misses wildly on some things but still has a charm and its heart is in the right place.
*29 to Life is currently available for rent or purchase on Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube. The film is also available to watch for Prime members.*