“Groove” offers a look at the underground rave scene, providing an accurate picture of what one night must be like, but without giving any insight beyond the superficial.
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Greg Harrison, “Groove” is small in scope, essentially beginning one Friday evening and ending the next morning. The focus is a rave in an abandoned warehouse in San Francisco. For those unfamiliar with raves, they are an underground phenomenon in which enterprising young folks set upon any large, unused facility they can find and establish a one-night dance club. Techno music is played by skilled DJs, and drugs — particularly Ecstasy — are usually part of the experience (one of several reasons why the police tend to shut them down — that, and the fact that the participants are usually trespassing).
Word of a rave usually spreads by e-mail, which is how we meet Leyla (Lola Glaudini), a recent New York transplant who sends word out that she needs a ride to the event. Meanwhile, we meet our other principal characters. Neil (Jeff Witzke) and Aaron (Bradley K. Ross) are a gay couple celebrating their one-year anniversary, if they can follow the screwy directions and find the place. David (Hamish Linklater) is a first-timer, coached by his brother, Colin (Denny Kirkwood) and Colin’s girlfriend, Harmony (Mackenzie Firgens). Cliff (Ari Gold) is a college T.A. who understands all the ins and outs of the drugs on the scene and keeps people from over-doing it. Ernie (Steve Van Wormer) is the guy in charge of the whole thing, an ambitious young fellow who wants to run a professional show at all costs.
Shortly after arriving, Colin proposes to Harmony, who giddily accepts. Leyla meets David, who has just tried his first dose of Ecstasy and is marveling at its powers. Creepy womanizer (and, apparently, manizer) Anthony (Vincent Riverside) hits on every girl he can find by offering massages, and winds up making out with Colin, much to the dismay of a rather stunned Harmony. Neil and Aaron, meanwhile, are lost.
All of this is set against the rave background. Much of the dialogue takes place on the dance floor, while other scenes are in a more mellow room away from the loudness. Either way, the soundtrack keeps thumping no matter what: The credits list 39 different songs that were used in the film (a new song every two minutes or so, in other words).
Harrison directs in a very smooth, professional style — and that may be the film’s greatest downfall, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. To truly capture the feeling of a rave, you’d expect some hand-held cameras and quick cuts. Instead, the cameras are mounted and the shots are often extended. Artful, maybe, but a betrayal of his frenzied, energetic subject matter.
He certainly got the music right, and the integral role played by the DJs at such parties is given full weight here. But, not to denigrade Harrison’s work, how hard is that? Get some real DJs and some authentic rave music, and you’ve essentially re-created the proper atmosphere. What we need are some characters to enjoy in that atmosphere.
There are a dozen or so main characters here, and only 83 minutes of movie. Obviously, someone’s going to get the short shrift, and the reality is that nearly everyone gets it. Colin is obviously dealing with some personal issues, but they are barely addressed. David doesn’t approve of his brother’s devil-may-care lifestyle, and initially is wary of his engagement to Harmony. That passes, too, without much resolution. And heaven help the other characters, whose lives are reduced to mere punch lines or plot devices.
Leyla and David have an interesting scene together in which she shares a lot of her history, but it seems like a waste when nothing is ever done with it. Both performances are good, as are several others. But like a rave, when “Groove” is all over, you know you enjoyed yourself; you just wish you could remember more of it.
C+ (; )