29 to Life is a lo-fi Indie coming of age film with impressive production values for its budget but is hampered by pacing issues and an unlikable lead character.
29-year-old Barnaby is jobless, homeless, and has just been dumped by his girlfriend who thinks he is a loser. Forced to live in his car, Barnaby (played by Murphy Patrick Martin) is drifting until he reconnects with old school friend Madison (Diana Solis), who helps him rediscover his love of cooking and find some direction in life.
The story of a twenty-something man-child who needs to take responsibility for his life but needs the gentle push of a good woman is not an especially new concept, and places this film in good company along with other Slacker-Indie filmmakers such as Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) and Zach Braff (Garden State, which is clearly a direct influence on this film). Unfortunately, 29 to Life does not come anywhere near the standards of these filmmakers and has a number of issues.
Barnaby is in a situation of his own making, and the film never quite manages to make him sympathetic enough for us to root for him. The performance recalls Paul Rust’s character in the Netflix series Love but unfortunately, the script here does not imbue Barnaby with enough depth to make him a three-dimensional character, which is a big problem when the film centres on him and he appears in every scene.
The film also suffers from some huge pacing issues – one thing we can learn from classic screwball comedy is that a rat-tat-tat quickfire back-and-forth between romantic leads can help to create a sense of chemistry and allow us to get a better sense of how the couple are working with one another. In scenes between Barnaby and Madison, the back and forth between them somehow seems ponderous, which makes the film meander. There is no urgency to the plot and no real threats to the relationship (aside from Barnaby himself) which unfortunately prevents any real stakes being established for the audience to want to root for the couple. It would have been nice to have spent some more time with some other characters; perhaps meeting Barnaby’s parents sooner or some of Barnaby’s other friends would have helped to flesh out the characters a bit more.
The performances are quite uneven, but Diana Solis as Madison is a highlight; her performance is really solid and she manages to bring her character to life, elevating what is otherwise quite conventional material.
Writer-director Alex Magana does do a great job with the cinematography though, and for what is clearly a low-budget film it looks great, with good production values which would not be out of place in any studio production.
Overall 29 to Life is a good-looking, low-budget project that never quite manages to overcome how hard it is to root for its central character. The pacing is baggy and the middle act is too long which undercuts the emotional impact of the film’s conclusion.