We Pedal Uphill

Dir: Roland Tec

Rating 1.0

Cinevolve Studios

111 Minutes

We Pedal Uphill watches like it sounds. Writer/director Rolend Tec is best known for his contribution to the Queer cinema genre, All the Rage (1998), and his improvisational Boston-based opera company. He has also sired these 13 vignettes addressing modern American life. And it is a wonder to behold how someone who’s had an entire decade to hone their craft can manage to render one such project so amateurishly. Budget is no excuse here. There are ways to make even the sparest of budgets work, and one doesn’t have to look far for examples of great film born of modest means. But Tec holds stubbornly to all manners of short film faux-pas: bathroom scenes shot in the mirror? Check. Stilted dialogue? Sure thing. Wooden acting? Executed, for the most part. Shabby camera, mismatched lighting, grimace-worthy editing? Mission accomplished.

Rife with enervating stereotypes, these shorts bring us some of the following tropes: a left-wing DJ is forced to inspect his toothpaste daily for poisonings and masquerade as a staunch conservative with pro-Gitmo bumper stickers in merciless Denver. White producers in the control booth passive-aggressively ply an African-American songstress for a more “black” rendering of the melody they’re recording, and afterward, when she picks up her kids, they drive (in slow motion) past a recruitment center, marking the oppressive spirit of life in Tennessee. Corporate brutes wrap up a meeting about new technologies to process the least edible parts of livestock into low-cost meals for prison inmates, and then turn to their own sumptuous BBQ, laughing sinisterly all the while. Guess where! Oklahoma. And perhaps most agonizingly, a long dolly shot takes us through the corridors of some endless factory in Connecticut, while we listen to fragments of conversations held by long-dead Irish immigrants. Gone unexpounded here are some 10 other sketches, which touch upon voters’ fraud (Ohio), corruption and blackmail in the transport industry (Nebraska), tourists’ lack of interest in Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s treason (New Mexico) and the top-secret hazing of those determined to protect the privacy of targets of terrorism investigation… only in Massachusetts! (Ominous Government Agent to Befuddled Librarian: You wanna see Cuba? Trust me. You don’t wanna win that free ticket).

The strongest shorts among all these may be those two addressing the alienation of growing up queer in right-wing, moneyed suburbs and the class demarcations between strangers chatting each other up in a hotel room before they get down to business. These two pieces manage take themselves seriously without seeming preachy, and the discourse between the two cruisers is hands down the most naturalistic throughout We Peddle’s entirety. That said, the cinematography is still unforgivable. Somebody has to have known how ill-wrought the camera work and lighting were during the making-of.

While each of these plights is relevant to how the world relates to America- and how America relates to itself- there has to be a more subtle and original way to handle them than Tec’s histrionic breakdown of the States since 9/11. The cast of theater actors’ skills translate poorly onto screen for the most part, and while some of the vignette concepts have potential, the energies of this catastrophic production are too thinly spread and run roughshod throughout what starts to feel like a sermon from the very first slow-going skit about pan-generational ambivalence over civil rights involvement. At times, this attempt at hard-hitting doctrine veers precariously close to hate propaganda, itself: Thirteen States. Thirteen shades of blah.

by Joan Wolkoff

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