Guest Artist is a new drama film written by and starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Timothy Busfield. The film tells the story of an aspiring playwright who is sent to pick up his hero in a train station, an alcoholic has-been that has been commissioned to write a new play for a small town theater to perform. It played at the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival.
The story of the film is relatively simple, but that is because it is only a means to get the two main characters into the same location together to allow them the opportunity to interact and discuss. In many ways, this is more play-like than cinematic in that it has minimal settings and characters and is heavily dialogue-driven.
That being said, the film does work quite well because of the interesting themes which it addresses. The film tackles topics including the value of art and the dynamic between the old guard and the new, and it does so in a way that is both thought-provoking and enjoyable to watch. Yes, it is very direct, but it is effective at delivering its intended message.
Both of the lead characters are extremely sympathetic. Daniels’s character, the established playwright, is an interesting character that is almost Byronic in a way. His self-destruction from his own vices and his lack of self-esteem will be very relatable to some people and is a brutally honest depiction of how fame can get to one’s head. The other lead is simply lovable because of his enduring sense of hope.
There is a great deal of emotion in the film, largely because the passion of the characters is evident. You can tell that Daniels has a personal investment in the story and that he wants to say something about the state of art in the world today. The film has a level of sincerity that is so often missing from critiques of modern art, and it benefits from that touch.
The two lead actors both do a good job in a theatrical sense. In a cinematic sense, they were very over-the-top, but being that the film is about theatre and is so play-like, it works. Daniels is one of the most talented stage actors working today, so his performance is powerful and emotional. Thomas Macias is also very good in his film debut, giving his character a lot of heart.
On a technical level, the film is definitely very minimalistic but effective. The cinematography and editing are straightforward and elegant. It is with the production design that the film impresses because of the level of detail. A lot of effort was put into the design because blocking is an important part of theatre and this film by extension.
Overall, Guest Artist was a solid film. Although it isn’t the most cinematic film to play at this year’s festival, it is well-written and entertaining and features some wonderful performances.
Guest Artist played at the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival.