Burning Bodhi full movie review - 'Burning Bodhi' Eyes Mortality, Offers Priorities
Friends who have drifted apart reunite to mourn the death of one of their own.
Losing somebody close for the first time is not a new premise for film. During a post-screening Q&A for the independent film Burning Bodhi at the Sedona International Film Festival, several people referenced The Big Chill (1983), in which middle-aged Baby Boomers who met at the University of Michigan occupy a beach house following a peer's suicide.
I never saw the latter film. Combining Boomers, the maize & blue and an expensive vacation home screams a bigger sense of entitlement than I can stomach.
In Burning Bodhi, written and directed by Matthew McDuffie, it's the millennials' turn to engage in some navel-gazing ? or, as it happens, tattoo-gazing. The title refers to the cremation of a guy named Bodhi ? a sort of hippyish, pot-smoking man-child seen only in still photos ? who dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm.
The characters here are younger and less affluent than those in The Big Chill. Two have relocated to Chicago, but the rest are drifting around their hometown, Albuquerque, N.M.
TV sitcom star Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) gets top billing, though her role is a supporting one. The actors doing the heavy lifting are Landon Liboiron (TV's Hemlock Grove and DeGrassi: The Next Generation) and Cody Horn (Magic Mike).
Liboiron's Dylan is arguably the most mature of the group. He's moved to Chicago, has a job and generally eschews the drugs offered by his friends. He is attempting an adult relationship with girlfriend Lauren (Meghann Fahy from soap opera One Life to Live). But Dylan overthinks everything, and his analysis paralysis renders him frustrated and angry.
Horn plays Ember, who represents the way things were. She is in Bodhi's hospital room when he dies, and she wants to get the gang back together for what she calls a "FUN-eral," basically a hippie wake. On an emotional level, Ember wants her friends to be the people they were in high school.
Ember is a bit flaky, but she is the remaining "glue" in the circle ? the one who gets her friends where they need to be, when they need to be there. She operates with a cognitive dissonance, dealing with people as they are today while less-effectively steering them toward the past. Her bong appears integral to making this work.
Both Dylan and Ember are fixated on Katy (Cuoco), Dylan's old girlfriend.
Ember idealizes Dylan and Katy as the inseparable high-school couple who represent what she thinks a happy relationship should be.
In reality, Katy has had a child out of wedlock, spent time in jail and remains, as Ember puts it, "a drug bunny." When she's not binging on narcotics in a friend's trailer, she nominally resides in her grandmother's cinder-block house because it's the only way she can see her son, of whom she has lost custody.
Yes, Ember knows all that; she also realizes she has her own unrequited feelings for Katy. What she doesn't know, as she pushes Dylan and Katy together, is that they broke up because Katy cheated on him with Bodhi. The guy whose memorial they are organizing. And who Ember also slept with before coming out. Awkward.
What Dylan doesn't know is that his trip home also will bring him face to face with another woman who betrayed him: his mother (Virginia Madsen). She left the family for another man when Dylan was a teen; he cut her from his life and nursed a grudge. When Dylan finds out his father (Andy Buckley) has taken her back, he goes ballistic. Forgiveness is not on his agenda.
Dylan's roommate, grad-student Miguel (Eli Vargas), is the anti-Dylan, a guy who acts unquestioningly on emotion. His gratitude to Bodhi and the old gang for accepting him make the trip home a no-brainer. While driving across county, Miguel hooks up with beautiful, pregnant hitchhiker Aria (Sasha Pieterse from TV's Pretty Little Liars), who is heading to California to find happiness but has no realistic expectations. He arrives in Albuquerque hand-in-hand with Aria, already lobbying her to return with him to Chicago.
With Ember's prodding, all these subplots play out in Albuquerque, where, with the exception of Dylan's parents and Miguel, the characters from Dylan's past appear to lead hardscrabble lives with no visible means of support. There are:
? The remaining friends' efforts to understand their feelings for Bodhi, as well has his sudden mortality.
? Dylan's issues with Katy and his mother, as well has his future with Lauren.
? Ember's search for what to do with Bodhi's ashes and her feelings for Katy.
? Katy's destructive cycle of making bad choices, realizing it and then punishing herself by making more bad choices.
? Miguel's too-quick courtship of Aria.
Some are resolved; some aren't; at least one leaves the audience with a surprising twist but no resolution. For Dylan, in particular, things seem to come together a little too quickly given the amount of anger he reveals for most of the story. Liboiron does well in Dylan's quieter scenes but overacts a bit when the character vents his rage.
The movie's theme ? articulated by Dylan's mother as she seeks his forgiveness ? is that real love means putting the other person's interests ahead of your own. It's a good philosophy as long as it isn't taken too far. In varying ways, it applies to all the characters. Some need to try it; others do it too much; some need to give it more thought.
While the film isn't entirely satisfying, I believe it's worth seeing ? particularly for people in their 20s and others who have dealt with some of the issues it examines.