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A big budget is not a guarantee of a good movie. A good script and good actors are essential. In fact, In Memory of My Father illustrates that if you have those, a big budget is optional.

Christopher Jaymes wrote, directed, and stars in this 96 minute movie, shot on video, in five days (after four weeks of rehearsals), at a friend’s house.

Tectonic Shifts

Chris' frustration is just the tip of the iceberg
Chris’ frustration is just the tip of the iceberg

The title might be suitable for the project that Chris (played by Jaymes) is working on. His father was a well-known studio producer from the golden age of Hollywood. He’s on his deathbed, and Chris is shooting a documentary about his last days. He seems annoyed at the task, and we eventually learn why. He was hired to do it by his father, who frankly didn’t think Chris could see it through.

Chris’ frustration is just the tip of the iceberg. Coming for a memorial party tonight are a host of friends and family, including Chris’ two brothers, his stepsister/cousin (his uncle married his mother), his 17-year-old girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and his dad’s own twentysomething girlfriend.

There is a lot of friction between many of these characters, and it all gets rougher under the emotional stress of dad’s demise. Lubricated with alcohol (and some other drugs), the characters start releasing their pent-up frustrations, making for a night of tectonic shifts in their relationships. Dad’s girlfriend hits on one brother. Chris’ underage girlfriend tells their secrets to Chris’ ex. The third brother’s wife might be gay, so he decides to teach her a lesson by flirting with his stepsister’s boyfriend.

Mike Leigh or Ed Burns?

In Memory of My Father is heavy on dialogue and populated with a lot of characters. Those seem like big risks for a such a small movie. One bad performance or one false conversation could bring down the whole thing. But screenwriter Jaymes and his castmates nail the characters and the dialogue. Director Jaymes keeps it all moving and makes the relationships clear.

More importantly, the movie entertains. Dad’s death puts everyone on edge, so nobody behaves well, and nobody is particularly likeable. That gives the drama a black-comedy tinge that works far better than the broad comedy of Cameron Crowe funeral scene in Elizabethtown.

All that remains to be seen is whether Jaymes parlays his ultimate success (it’ll happen) into a career of outstanding actor showcases like an American Mike Leigh, or whether he’ll squander his talent in the Hollywood grist mill like Edward Burns.