on January 31, 1999 by Ray Greene
   Film festival habitues know the recipe by heart. Take one up-and-coming filmmaker with little to say outside of his own narrow interests; blend in a jigger of comedy, a slice of romantic pathos, and a dash of "generation X" ennui; synchronize all of the above to the jangled fuzz-tones of an alterna-rock score that sounds half a decade out of date, et voila! An instant exercise in premature self-indulgence, in which a first-time filmmaker details his struggle to become a first-time filmmaker--Fellini's "8 1/2," recast as a novice director's "1."
   The festival circuit is infested like a tenement baseboard with failed attempts in this general direction, which is what makes Todd Edwards' "Chillicothe" such an unexpected surprise. On the surface, "Chillicothe" fits the navel-gazing parameters of the form to a "t": a struggling art school grad (played by Edwards) and his aging buddies deal with their late 20s by sitting around the house, worrying about their financial and relationship prospects, and gradually giving up on their dreams.
   But Edwards' ruthless and skillfully comedic screenplay sees the traumas of his four protagonists for what they are: growing pains to be endured and surmounted, on the way to the rewards and compromises of adulthood which wait on the other side. Edwards is clever enough to know how obnoxious his film might become if his own lead characters were to become mouthpieces for the writer/director who created them. Instead, "Chillicothe" operates at a knowing ironic distance from its young ensemble, poking fun at each of its four leads for their collective over-earnestness in asking what Edwards undoubtedly believes are the right questions about post-graduate life.
   As both a screenwriter and a filmmaker, Edwards is remarkably assured for a first-timer. His dialogue is sharp, and he gets modest and believable performances from a cast of mostly unknowns. Though the film ultimately falls into a well-worn groove, the knowing romanticism Edwards infuses his work with makes "Chillicothe" a destination that's well worth the trip.    Directed and written by Todd Edwards. Produced by Preston Stutzman and Cory Edwards. Comedy/drama. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 93 min.
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