Sometimes, the best a small-scale indie can do is surprise you. It’s always impressive that any film ever gets made at all, so when a micro budget indie feature with an ambling narrative & blatantly non-professional actors even makes it to a festival run in a completed form, it’s impressive to me than it even exists. The stories told on that scale can be predictable & routine at best, though, which is understandable when considering the limited means that produced them. What I most appreciated about the micro budget indie Wexford Plaza is the way it surprises its audience by playing directly into that predictability and then completely subverting expectation. It’s not an impressive feat of slick, hyper stylized filmmaking craft, but it is an impressive act of small-scale storytelling made fresh.
A young, bored 20something white girl picks up a go-nowhere security guard job at a desolated strip mall. Listless, she drifts through the endless summertime doldrums of the job in the exact way you’d expect someone just leaving their teens to: wolfing junk food, playing on her phone, drinking, smoking pot, masturbating, wasting time. A misinterpreted sexual pass from a coworker eats up a lot of her time on the job, as she fails to flirt back and eventually ends up making herself vulnerable & hurt. This all sounds like a typical no budget indie comedy narrative, except that the same story is then inverted & retold from the perspective of the older, PoC coworker our listless antihero failed to flirt with in the first half. Things get much darker from there, shifting from a small-scale stoner comedy to a smartly calibrated gut punch focused on the tension between privilege & economic desperation.
At its heart, Wexford Plaza is a dark comedy about the difference between treating menial service labor as a consequence-free playground in your 20s and the way it becomes an escape-free economic rut you depend on for sustenance in your 30s & beyond. The movie can be frivolously funny in the aimless stoner comedy moments of its opening half, but evolves into a much more surprising, rewarding watch as its story unfolds onscreen. There are probably more stylistically impressive examples of this humorous service labor drama to be found out there (Patti Cake$ & Party Down come to mind). The movie’s absence of a proper budget also shows at the seams (especially when the blatantly green actors are tasked with comically playing drunk or high), but the movie does manage to surprise & subvert expectation, which is no small feat given the scale of its production.