The Big Something (2011)

One of the most exciting things that I get to do as a film and music critic is check out work that is unique and off the beaten path. Sure, the major theatrical releases and hip festival pictures can be a lot of fun to watch and discuss. But sometimes there are pictures from other avenues that come to my attention and present different angles that deserve to be explored.

The Big Something is one such picture. Directed by Travis Mills, this is the first feature film production from Running Wild Films. It was made for around $2,000 and was shot over the course of 14 days. Mills’ indie ethic shines in every scene and, as a result, The Big Something sparkles with lots of local Tempe landmarks.

Lewis (Michael Coleman) has been living in the back of the record store he works at. One day, he returns to his pad to discover the owner dead and cops crawling all over. The death is eventually ruled a suicide, but Lewis is suspicious as to why the generous and relatively happy owner would want to off himself. Unluckily for Lewis, he gets “fired” by April (Mina Mirkhah) and has to bunk in with his dead boss’ widow (Sandy Kim).

Lewis still obsesses over the passing of the store owner and begins to piece the “case” together by snooping around. His quest leads him to team up with a reluctant April and takes him to some weird places to meet some weird people, including Murphy (Rob Edwards) and a dude in a wheelchair (Michael Harrelson) who seems to have more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

Mills wisely centres the action around the record store, a real-life joint called Tracks in Wax. This gives the characters some grounding and provides for a lot of humorous scenes involving some quirky store patrons, including a guy who harshly asks for headphones and a creepy “dwarf” who apparently steals stuff.

There is some confusion as to the unfolding of the plot, however, and it can be very hard to piece together as a pure whodunit. It stumbles in places when it comes to clarity and the characters don’t always make sense. The real mystery is why April keeps floating in and out of the case. Her love-hate relationship with Lewis isn’t explored as much as it could have been and the conclusion seems rushed, as if Mills and fellow writer Ryan Gaumont closed their eyes and randomly selected how things would wrap up.

Still, The Big Something is a comical and charming piece of work. The actors, especially Mirkhah, are enjoyable and funny in the right places. Coleman’s Lewis is a stumbling slacker of a character, bursting with pieces of Woody Allen’s Larry Lipton from Manhattan Murder Mystery and someone from a Kevin Smith movie.

Mills smartly uses a public domain soundtrack packed with early jazz and blues tracks, giving the movie an almost vintage feel. The appreciation for music gives The Big Something its cadence, but a little more discussion on the subject would’ve been beneficial to frame the characters in the record store environment. An early scene involving an energetic Travis Tritt conversation had legs, but Mills doesn’t return to the well.

Overall I enjoyed The Big Something. It is a smartly made film and looks wonderful in beautiful widescreen. Mills’ sense for the cinematic is on-point and his delivery is skilled even though some story and character aspects could’ve used some fine tuning. The premise is captivating enough, but better execution would’ve made this really one really something.

Trailer: