By Curt Wiser
Simon Pegg (“Shaun Of The Dead”, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout“) stars as Theo, an acclaimed music producer who lapses into manic schizophrenia due to a long history of drug addiction. His protégé, Hannah, portrayed by Juno Temple (“Unsane“, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil”), struggles to take care of Theo in his time of need.
Yes, that Simon Pegg, Lost Transmissions is a huge transition for this comedic star. It is not like anything you’ve seen him in before, which is why I was happy to see Lost Transmissions at the 11th annual DTLA Film Festival. This marks the feature, directorial debut for Katharine O’Brien.
From the opening scene we get a strong sense of the tone the rest of the story will adhere to. We see a rather sobering shot of Hannah on a subway, static swells over a voice message Theo left. What Theo has to say foreshadows the dark, tragic story that is to come.
That is not to say there isn’t a message of hope under the surface here, there is. The strong sound design is also headlined in this opening scene, do not adjust your set, this is Lost Transmissions.
In quick time, Theo recognizes Hannah’s talent as a singer-songwriter. He records a demo of her, which leads to her big break, a gig as a songwriter for pop star sensation Dana Lee, played charismatically by Alexandra Daddario (“San Andreas“, “Baywatch”).
When character Dana Lee bursts into the scene, it is clear she is an unofficial blend between Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. Like a pop star smoothie, Daddario adds a compelling dynamic to her scenes. Two other characters, may remind you of teen male vocalists like Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers.
That character is just one example of how Lost Transmissions has one foot firmly planted in the LA music scene, and the other, in the harsh realities of mental illness and poverty in America.
I would compare it to the recent Todd Phillips hit, Joker in that regard. Both of these movies deal with this urgent subject in a truthful way. Without spoiling too much, Theo’s mental state sends him spiralling down the mental health system until he hits rock bottom.
A few scenes show homelessness and the Skid Row community with a depth and brevity that I have never seen before in a narrative film. The post screening Q and A revealed that this was because Katharine O’Brien and her production team reached out to aid organizations who help the homeless community in Skid Row. They worked closely with the people who live these hard lives, as a way to accurately portray it in the film.
All of the cast and crew involved with Lost Transmissions paid close attention to detail. The wardrobe perfectly fit these LA music personalities. The Dana Lee wardrobe being the most extreme on this spectrum, is right on given the larger than life character Daddario inhabited. This is the work of Costume Designer Malcolm Bacani, credit given where credit is due.
The entire music and sound department did an exceptional job. This is crucial, given that music is the biggest part of these characters lives. I would note Marius De Vries as the Music Director and Brooke Wentz who is the Music Supervisor among these.
Tonally, this movie reminded me of Less Than Zero and Hurlyburly. About half of the scenes in Lost Transmissions felt to be performed in mumblecore style, leaning into natural improvisation by the actors.
Other moments were clearly well written and adhered to, such as the sound of clashing static in between radio stations being a metaphor for the true essence of a person, the layers below the surface.
The edit that screened at DTLA Film Fest has a run time of 1 hour and 43 minutes. I feel for the content which was there, 10 minutes could easily be cut from the first half of Lost Transmissions and it would make it a better movie.
That being said, the acting was pitch perfect. Simon Pegg delivers a dramatic powerhouse of a performance. That alone is enough to make Lost Transmissions one to watch. It is no wonder the film had a strong premier at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The most unique aspect of Lost Transmissions was how it handled this rehabilitation story. The tough love version we have seen a million times, but O’Brien delivers something different here. Hannah is in over her head, she is not capable of taking care of Theo, despite her great efforts.
This is a fresh take on mental illness, which sadly, must be a reality for far too many. Lost Transmissions is making the festival rounds still. Who knows what the future will be for this music world indie Drama. I guess we’ll find out when the needle drops.
Curt Wiser is the Writer-Director of the suspense movie Cam-Girl. He is happy to see the work of other artists, hopeful that he can sing their praises.