Waking Up Dead (★★☆☆☆) wants you to think it’s hilarious and really deep, while failing to maintain a coherent story, much less landing any jokes.
Written and directed by Terracino, the dramedy follows Danny (Gabriel Sousa), a hot wannabe actor whose life falls apart after learning his drug-addict mother is dying.
At a rapid-fire pace, the film establishes Danny as a cheater, douche, and drug addict with no concern for how any of his actions affect anyone other than himself, and that he is a bad person.
As Danny gets evicted, gets dumped, and moves into his friend’s house, the plot becomes less of an actual story and more just things happening, with little connective tissue to really tell what’s going on.
The film frequently opts for scenes that come off like bad improv skits, throwing unnecessary information between its vulgar jokes and story that is constantly going all over the place.
In between Danny’s struggles, Waking Up Dead introduces other characters through inconsistent title cards that add zero context for the one-dimensional characters that end up being mostly unimportant.
The jokes in the film are as rough and crude as its story, often appearing forced, out of place, and just plain distracting. While the film deals with serious topics like drug use and suicide, it treats those subjects as nothing more than plot points to get things moving, while throwing in ignorant jokes about nothing at hand.
Often, the jokes are nothing more than rude statements belittling trans people to bad punchlines, short-sighted observations on gay life, or poor attempts to show Danny’s character. A character’s attempted suicide and drug use is treated so haphazardly, so frequently that it undermines any argument the film wants to make while appearing baffling ignorant.
As Danny struggles to get his act together, the film cannot make an authentic (or funny) story as a domino effect of its own failures makes the film harder to watch or understand. When the plot is present (a rarity) it usually is too simple and uninteresting with the dialogue and characters often going into frequent unimportant tangents.
Sousa isn’t bad as Danny, but it’s clear that he can only do so much with how little he has. More editing to the script (and everything else) could have allowed him to at least try to do something that worked. However, the weak plot makes Sousa go the extra mile, often forcing way more than necessary and just making the scene awkward.
Every aspect of Waking Up Dead would have benefitted from tighter directing. The film goes all over the place all the time and refuses to pick a spot to land, feeling rushed and incoherent.
Some scenes go on forever, with the story going from being cookie-cutter to making wild story turns, unsupported by its plot. Waking Up Dead tries to include as much as it can in its runtime to try to craft a genuine story about overcoming hardship. It never comes close to succeeding.
Waking Up Dead is available in the virtual festival through Sunday, Oct. 23. Click here to buy passes.
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