Review: Walter 

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Walter
isn’t quite like anything you’ve seen before. Shot partly in Indianapolis on a shoestring budget, this quirky comedy is one of the best films out right now. 

Like the indie gem itself, Walter (Andrew West) finds himself on the fringe of mainstream films, tearing tickets at his local megaplex. But he doesn’t just direct moviegoers into theaters; he also decides whether they are going to heaven or hell. The awkward twenty-something claims to be a son of God.

Fortunately, writer Paul Shoulberg and director Anna Mastro aim for earnest drama with this quirky premise rather than ironic hipster detachment. Amid the low-key laughs, they successfully tug on viewers' heartstrings but without steeping the film in too much sappy sentimentality. The film is grounded in a kind of tender reality you wouldn't expect given its outlandish plot. 


As producer Brenden Hill said at the film’s premiere on Sunday at the Indiana State Museum IMAX, the story grew warmer in tone as the production moved to the Heartland. Although the crew spent only four days filming in Indianapolis (the rest of the shoot was in Los Angeles), the film has a wholesome Midwestern feel.

“Indianapolis has an Everytown, USA feel that’s fitting for a story with these universal themes,” Hill said. “It’s about grief, death, how we’re all haunted by something, and what we do to cope and come out the other side of it all.”

Walter’s delusion of being a divine figure is revealed to be a result of delayed grief over his father’s death. As he continually surrenders to his Groundhog Day existence of tearing tickets and fulfilling divine duties, the imagery of the fast-moving city around him helps emphasize his arrested emotional development. The shots of the Speedway and city buses convey the idea that “Walter is constantly being lapped,” production designer Michael Bricker said.
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Walter’s issues also come to light through a host of engaging characters: William H. Macy exudes raw comic energy as an eccentric psychiatrist; Justin Kirk brings a sardonic wit to the role of a ghost seeking final judgment from Walter; Virginia Madsen effectively conveys the anguish behind the kooky antics of Walter’s mother; and Leven Rambin grounds the quirky cast as Walter’s co-worker and love interest.

West is the real standout. As Walter, he’s at once magnetic and mysterious — an odd character you cannot help but want to follow. He leads viewers down a rabbit hole full of twists, turns, and tender emotion. As West said, the film is ultimately a classic hero's journey that builds to a moment of profound and much-needed catharsis. 

West will join Hill and Shoulberg at the IU Cinema screening of the film on Tuesday, Mar. 10 at 7 p.m. Walter will also be playing at the Indiana State Museum IMAX starting Friday, Mar. 13. 

Pulsating with wit and pathos, Walter is a fiercely original film. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything like it. Perhaps the best comparison is to Wes Anderson's work, as it presents a setting that feels strange yet lived-in and achingly real. The film transports viewers to a surreal world but also makes them feel right at home, as though they are watching their own lives unfold on screen.  


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