Created by the founding members of American folk-rock band, The Sweet Remains, "The Independents" takes us on a delightful musical adventure
Simply put, The Independents is about three guys, a van, and some jams. That tells you just about all there is to know about the content of this little indie film, but it doesn’t account for the experience of watching it or the incredible way that this flick establishes a nostalgic, comfortable tone. The Independents stars Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand, real-life band members of The Sweet Remains, who play fictionalized versions of themselves. Loosely based on their actual interactions and experiences, The Independents tells the story of three down-and-out artists who happen to meet at a time in their lives when they need to make music more than ever before. As you might expect, this road-trip band fantasy movie is filled with musical montages, crowded bars, shared joints, and even a grandiose monologue delivered on a hilltop overlooking LA. More than anything, however, The Independents is about capturing a certain mood, like a glossy motion-picture scrapbook of the band’s favorite memories.
As Rich half-heartedly works towards completing his literature PhD, he spends every moment he can (i.e., when his elderly neighbor isn’t taking one of her frequent naps) writing songs. By total happenstance, Rich meets another struggling musician, Greg, who is working a tree service job to make ends meet while he waits for his big break. After their first jam session, Rich reveals that he just happens to have an invite to play at a music festival. So, the newly formed duo heads out in Greg’s graffitied blue van, picks up a hitchhiking guitarist named Brian along the way, and embarks on a road trip they’ll never forget.
The Independents wastes no time jumping right into its plot. Greg strolls into Rich’s apartment after almost accidentally killing him with a tree branch, and the two have barely introduced themselves before they start creating music together. After they meet Brian, things just magically fall into place for the new band, which they name using their first initials, “RGB.” In fact, the details of the plot fall into place a bit too easily, which is partly why I’ve labeled this film as a band-road-trip “fantasy.” There’s certainly a sense of adventure that makes the story feel like an exciting and heroic quest, but it’s also a fantasy in the sense that the plot is literally every young musician’s dream. The trio just happens upon a welcoming inn that’s having a music night, a producer just happens to see the three of them perform, and so on and so forth. For this reason, the characters and conflicts don’t feel quite as complex as other notable band films. However, The Independents has a lot of heart and captures the feeling of improv circles, spontaneous road trips, and the ever-elusive dream of “starting a band” with a charming flair.
Additionally, once it gets going, The Independents introduces some roadblocks that make the band’s journey more believable. The film is also packed with memorable moments of sincerity and humor. With three stars playing loose versions of themselves, the performances are natural and comfortable overall, despite a few moments of awkward overacting. Naughton, Price, and Chartrand ground the film’s simplistic plot with a sense of self-awareness and make the movie feel familiar and comfortable.
It’s also easy to forgive the simplistic narrative when The Independents is so clearly a music-driven film. Naughton, who also wrote and directed the film, seamlessly weaves the music into the story, moving between a diegetic and non-diegetic soundtrack with ease. The songs wrap the story in a cozy, folky ambiance that makes us want to settle into the world of the film and stay there. During the musical scenes, we are effectively pulled into the intimate space where Rich, Greg and Brian create and perform their music, and it is in these moments that the characters feel the most genuine. While the story helps us to appreciate all the sacrifices that these guys made for their band, it’s clear that the story and characters are secondary to the music.
The Independents packs in a few hidden cultural references as well as some delightful cameos, including appearances by Tony Award winners Kelli O’Hara and James Naughton (director Greg Naughton’s wife and father, respectively). It’s got a solid aesthetic appeal that’s perfect for showcasing the music of The Sweet Remains, and it’s a must-see for anyone who’s ever started (or wanted to start) a band.
For more information on The Independents, head over to the film's official website.
Click here to learn more about "The Sweet Remains."
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"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."