Movie Review: YELLING FIRE IN AN EMPTY THEATRE (Slamdance Film Festival)
Justin Zuckerman’s Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater removes any pretense that moving to a new city is easy, fun, or romantic. His entertaining first feature film replaces these tropes with a gritty narrative rich in bohemian angst.
Isadora Leiva gives a lively performance as Lisa, a young woman whose arrival in New York is fraught with challenges. In addition to moving to a new place, she must also navigate a troubled relationship, find a job, and discover who she is.
Boldly stepping into the breach, the film’s young heroine arrives in New York eager to begin a new adventure. She hopes to finally see where things are headed with life and reconnect with Eric, her ambivalent college boyfriend who has already moved there.
Moving into her new apartment, she finds things are not quite ready for her arrival. Staying with Holly, the daughter of a friend-of-the family, and her musician boyfriend, Bill, she is immediately thrown into the whirlwind of living in the Big Apple.
She quickly discovers it will not be easy. Carefree and crass, Holly’s off-putting demeanor wears thin quickly, causing Lisa some anxiety about her living arrangement. Making things worse, Bill doesn’t want her there at all, giving her the cold shoulder at every turn.
Settling into a room with freshly painted walls in an apartment with roommates who are on the verge of splitting up is not how Lisa wanted this chapter of her life to go. Undaunted, she gets a temp job at a temp agency, where she is greeted unceremoniously by a goofy coworker whose father owns the business.
Naïve, nervous, and boiling with rage over her circumstances, Lisa comes into her own. Her job situation stabilizes, she takes up smoking and explores her new city. She also learns to play the guitar and handle Holly’s bombastic outbursts.
However, her adjustment and personal growth become hindered when she becomes entangled in Holly and Ben’s strained relationship. While she remains patient and tolerant of Holly’s tantrums, she is irritated and fascinated by Bill, whose motivation in life is playing in his band (where he grows more and more into a Lou Reed caricature).
Working alongside Leiva’s breakout performance, actress, writer, and comedian Kelly Cooper is a force of nature. Irritable, angry, and funny, her scenes with Leiva are emotionally intense and physically hazardous. Onscreen the duo is impossible to ignore.
Michael Patrick Nicholson plays a real jerk in this film. Consumed in narcissism, his Bill is so foul that audiences want to punch him in the face. Devouring scene after scene, he is unstoppable.
Rooted in mumblecore, this exploration of indie youth culture screened at Slamdance 2022. Lo-fi in every way, the movie, filmed for the cost of rent in a Brooklyn apartment, features excellent performances from its cast.
Shot with a DCR camcorder, Zuckerman’s feature captures the essence of youthful turbulence. Filled with nervousness, uncertainty, anxiety, and characters who comfortably inhabit a world of gray, Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater is so densely emotional it might as well be a lost season of MTV’s The Real World.
Resonating with anyone who has ever moved to New York and those who have dreamed of it, Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater is a grimy and compelling film filled with outstanding performances from some of Brooklyn’s best actors.
Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater screened virtually at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival through February 6th. For more information, visit slamdance.com.