A college student proud of his array of mental disorders reacts oddly to being expelled in Inside the Rain, Aaron Fisher’s feature writing-directing-acting debut. Released with the imprimatur of Christine Vachon’s Killer Films and some familiar faces in the cast, the film promises to be a much more daring self-portrait than it is: Assessing his own and his character’s mental illness simultaneously, Fisher stirs a spoonful of self-awareness into a gallon of wish-fulfillment and serves it up with ill-advised allusions to J.D. Salinger’s Glass stories. While some who share his struggles may be happy to see Fisher telling his own story here, very little in the self-portrait rings true.
Fisher’s Ben Glass is barely settling into his new school when a romantic frustration involving fellow student Daisy (Katie Claire McGrath) leads him to attempt suicide. This is the sort of (imaginary?) liberal-arts college where the dean comes to visit you in the ER when you overdose on pills; but a strict “two strikes” policy guarantees expulsion if you do it again. That’s what happens when Daisy, visiting Ben’s dorm room to make sure he’s doing okay, mistakenly thinks he’s preparing for a second suicide attempt.
Film-as-therapy may speak to those with similar diagnoses.
Indignant about being expelled, Ben vows to appeal; with manic tenacity, he’s convinced the best way to do this is to make a short film explaining what happened. His therapist (Rosie Perez) and parents (Paul Schulze and Catherine Curtin) know this is a terrible idea, but a washed-up movie producer associate of Dad’s says otherwise. Monty Pennington (Eric Roberts), upon hearing that Ben wants his film to have a real, cinematic look, knowingly says he can do it for a price: “You know, that’s gonna cost you no less than — fifty-five hundred dollars.”
Perhaps Ben’s determination would wane if he hadn’t already met his leading lady: Emma (Ellen Toland), an escort/model/stripper who goes out of her way not to exploit the naive young man who’s in love from the moment they meet. She agrees to act in Ben’s movie (which dovetails with her own ambitions), then quickly becomes something implausibly like his friend.
If Fisher’s screenplay plants some land mines for the cast to navigate (Perez has to sell some pretty non-shrinky attitudes and dialogue, for instance), his presence in front of the camera is a more general hurdle. The untrained actor is the weakest link in an already hit-and-miss cast, and few viewers will respond to Ben’s unearned bravado. Ben often says of his bipolar disorder, “I prefer to call it ‘recklessly extravagant.’” But the movie conveys neither the heedless optimism nor the despondency that makes people like Ben so challenging for those who love them. The plot requires him either to be more charismatic than he actually is, or to be so pitiable a beautiful stranger would indulge his dreams when they’re clearly doomed to fail. Like the film’s never-explained title — press notes reveal it to be a private autobiographical reference — the pic seems to be made for its creator more than anyone else.
Production company: Act 13
Distributor: Act 13
Cast: Aaron Fisher, Ellen Toland, Rosie Perez, Catherine Curtin, Paul Schulze, Rita Raider, Katie Claire McGrath
Director-screenwriter: Aaron Fisher
Producer: George LaVoo
Executive producers: Christine Vachon, Danny Fisher, Javier Gonzalez
Director of photography: Josh Fisher
Production designer: Sally Levi
Costume designer: Zinnia Kim
Editors: Aaron Fisher, Esteban Uribe
Casting directors: Ellyn Long Marshall, Maria E. Nelson