Take a Drink: every time someone yells “Get off the road!”
Take a Drink: every time David’s sexuality is questioned or mentioned.
Take a Drink: every time David mentions someone is cut off.
Take a Drink: every time David’s mole is shown
Do a Shot: If you ever find yourself repeating David’s mantras.
By: The Cinephiliac (Three Beers)
Pat Mills is a wearer of many hats, all of which get shown off with pride in his second feature film, Guidance. Serving as writer, director, and lead actor, Mills channels the inner demons of David Gold, a self-sabotaging drunk recently fired from his job as a voice reader for self-help meditational books. Also on the edge of eviction, David’s drinking pushes him into a world of disillusioned enlightenment. Under this guise, Mills tells a fascinating, and at times hilarious, tale of how David convinces himself that the best way to combat his misfortune is by becoming a high school guidance counselor. Such a task is achieved when his booze-soaked brain figures that stealing the identity of an already established counselor named Roland Brown will find him happiness. His alcoholism and cynically optimistic view on life earns him a barrage of highs, lows, and wacky hijinks as Roland.
Running from the pink elephants… everywhere!
Mills creates an intriguing film that tackles issues of self-esteem and self-worth all encompassed through light-hearted comedy mixed with stinging drama. David’s entire life revolves around the longing to relive his adolescent years as a child actor. Currently a miserable adult, David finds solace in living his teenage years vicariously through the high schoolers he attempts to counsel. Mills captures poignantly real moments of David’s unhappiness. Through medium shots we watch him as he chugs bottlers of liquor in his bathtub or a box of Franzia wine on his couch always accompanied by watching old videos of himself in youth.
These scenes work best at bridging a sense of compassion from audiences for the not so likable David, but also masterfully lack a heavy-handed sadness that could make these scenes cheesy. In one scene while drinking and smoking cigarettes in his apartment he is confronted by his landlord who has come to collect rent. She angrily confronts him for being late on his rent and for smoking indoors which is aware he isn’t supposed to do. David apologizes and makes a deal to pay after his first paycheck, coating his words in a sticky sweetness that could rot the teeth he so happily bares in his smile. As she leaves the room, his face immediately returns to its stoic sadness with his cigarette returning to his lips in childlike defiance. It’s a great scene that perfectly sums up David’s intense personality.
David is basically who we all expected Macaulay to be.
While Mills works wonders in terms of development with his lead character, the same cannot be said for Guidance’s side characters, although that is to be expected in a film with a runtime of 80 minutes. Instead, the other characters become generic cutouts of archetypal high school attendants. Every staff member fits into the expected box of high school teachers from the dreary drama teacher, to the lusty gym coach, right down to the overly sweet pushover vice principal. All ultimately act as one hive mind of gossipers who are smart enough to figure out that there is something off with “Roland,” yet dumb enough to not know what to do about it. Which is fine and dandy for a comedic concept, but leaves more to be desired from a film.
The successful situations that David continuously finds himself in while acting as guidance counselor seems a bit hokey after awhile and it’s too convenient that the entire school seems filled with idiots. Not only does David steal a respected individual’s identity without anyone suspecting anything strange, but he is hired after one interview with no references, no research, and a half-baked philosophy that the principal doesn’t even understand. David openly drinks liquor while on the job and even smokes pot with a student in his office, yet no one ever smells liquor on his breath or seeping out of his skin nor does anyone smell the bud. He’s pretty bad at his job and seems to only connect with students who are just as cynical and aloof as he is. Yet, of all the kids he counsels during a montage, he never talks to the two characters featured who need it the most, two bullies who are angry for no other reason than that’s their job. While bonding with these students through counseling sessions, apparently every one of them betrays his trust in the end as details surface that no one other than the students should have known. And if they did rat on him, what the hell? Why?
Regardless, there’s a heart and intrigue to Guidance that transcends Mills’ at times shaky writing and the snooty quips of David. It’s a film that longs to dissect the effects of low self-esteem and how that affects someone in life. Guidance is about learning to love oneself instead of measuring one’s worth through other people’s expectations. It tries to fight the good fight while showing audiences that lying to ourselves and creating a false sense of self-worth will ultimately eat you up from within. Any film attempting to showcase such a powerful message means well and succeeds in my book.