Hapless Young Bushwick Guys Get the 'Girls' Treatment in New Film
BUSHWICK — After years bouncing from jobs as a toy salesman, census worker, political canvasser and barista while he "hung out with the same people, watched the same bands and drank a ton of beer," Cody Swanson was struck with inspiration.
He rounded up his fellow aimless artists in Bushwick and got hard at work — making a movie about just how desperate a 20-something-year-old man can get.
"I had all these friends who were trying to do projects that would fall through or people in bands who wouldn't play very often or people who wanted to be actors but didn't act," said Swanson, 26.
"I figured I'd kill all the birds with one stone."
Now Swanson's independently produced feature film "Mostly Awake" — shot in bars and venues around the neighborhood, with a soundtrack by local bands and starring Bushwick-based actors — is debuting to lightly mock the struggles of his generation.
It follows a similar vein as Lena Dunham's sitcom sensation "Girls."
"The show has a similar idea as what we're trying to go for in the movie, which is to show a young person's perspective on the city," he said. "There aren't too many shows or movies that are about this age and place and time... that take an accurate perspective."
Compared to his storyline and his life, Swanson said, the Greenpoint-based "Girls" characters have quite the padded existence.
"If one of them had to go get unemployment, they'd still go out and get drinks and have their nice apartment, but I have friends who live in basements with no windows," he said.
"If [the 'Girls' characters] go on unemployment they're just like, 'What's going to happen to me?' whereas with my friends, they're like, 'f--k, I have to go eat Ramen noodles for a month.'"
In Swanson's film, the protagonist Max (played by first-time actor Trevor Hamilton), who is unemployed and "in a rut," is violently mugged and then kicked out of his apartment after he fails to pay his rent.
But then he encounters a street preacher who gives him a to-do list to turn around his life — plus a mysterious potion.
"The street preacher MJ gives him a magical elixir...It's described as pure acid that comes from a lake, so he doesn't need to eat or sleep," said Swanson, who wrote and directed the film. "So he doesn't have to worry about providing for himself."
Then, as Max wanders through his ethereal haze, he follows the preacher's absurd commands in search of enlightenment.
The tasks — which include smoking a whole pack of cigarettes, picking a fight in a bar, breaking a child's toy and considering jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge — eventually push Max further into disillusionment, said Swanson, noting that the film simultaneously chronicles the protagonist's evolution and highlights the local scene.
"He tries to get into a bar fight at Mama Joy's," said Swanson of the Southern-style restaurant, among Bushwick settings that include Pine Box Rock Shop, the Loom cafe, North Brooklyn Collective and street scenes on Bogart Street and Jefferson Street near the Morgan L station.
"Part of it was to try to be as accurate as possible to the parties and kinds of things my friends and I do," Swanson said. "But a lot of it focuses on the main character."
And as the protagonist experiences a "change in perspective" throughout the film, Swanson has redefined his own relationship with his neighborhood through completing the ambitious project.
"We raised three grand on Kickstarter from family, from friends," he said of his team's fundraising efforts last year. "It was really wonderful to see all the people who wanted the movie to be made."
"Mostly Awake" will premiere at Bathaus on Starr Street Feb. 23. The free event begins at 8 p.m. and the screening is at 9 p.m.