Groove Movie Review
Made for love, not money, by an upstart filmmaker who knows and adores his subject, "Groove" is an enthusiastic, insider snapshot of the sweaty, adrenaline-driven, hyper-party atmosphere of San Francisco's red-hot rave scene.
Capturing the boundlessly euphoric spirit of this kinetic musical subculture, this Sundance buzz bin picture is a biography of one rave -- from the guerilla location scouting in empty warehouses to the mood of Ecstasy-fueled pulse electronica that becomes more and more exhilarating with each changing of the guard on the DJs' turn tables.
Writer-director-editor Greg Harrison has a little trouble maintaining the needed verve because he invites the audience into the rave experience through a handful of rather uninvolving characters with elementary story arcs. David (Hamish Linklater) is a high-strung rave virgin, dragged to the party by his live-for-pleasure brother, Colin (Denny Kirkwood). Harmony (Mackenzie Firgens) is Colin's girlfriend, to whom he proposes before making a huge romantic mistake under the influence of Ecstasy. Layla (charismatic Lola Glaudini, "NYPD Blue") is a aimless-but-intelligent beauty who inexplicably nurses David the wet blanket through his paranoid and blissful first time dropping E. They're a shallow and sometimes grave bunch, and far less fun-loving than your average raver.
But what "Groove" lacks in personality it makes up for in breathless, cafeinated, fervid presentation.
Harrison breaks the story into chapters, cunningly introduced by the changing of DJs throughout the all-night fete. (Many of them are icons on the rave and club scene like John Digweed, DJ Polywog and WishFM, who served as the movie's music supervisor.) Each new act, brought on by each new spin-master, ups the energy level fivefold as the camera zooms in on the mixing board when the new DJ toggles from one turntable to another. If you're in a theater with a good sound system, you'll have to resist the urge to get up and dance your butt off.
Harrison's background is in film editing, and it shows in his brilliant cutting that takes cues from the beat of the music, without resorting to the tiresome 1,000-images-a-minute style of filmmakers who cut their teeth on MTV videos.
His film is uneven and sometimes even gimmicky, but it's visually and musically bewitching and does occasionally shine -- like when the nervous warm-up DJ who flubbed his first set unexpectedly gets a second chance to spin and sends the crowd into a frenzy, or when the party's electricity is cut off by the cops and the organizers bring it back to life with extension cords and a portable generator.
In the last few months, rave movies have become a sub-genre unto themselves. While "Groove" isn't as appropriately uninhibited or nearly as much fun as last month's Welsh import "Human Traffic," it actually does a better job of portraying the essence of these effervescent, fly-by-night parties than any film before it, including "Better Living Through Circuitry," an overly-loquacious documentary on the subject that came out two weeks ago. That film didn't have nearly the exhilarating vim that "Groove" has in spades.
There will undoubtedly be more rave movies, but even though Harrison takes his rather insignificant characters too seriously to capture the pure joy ravers espouse, "Groove" stands a chance of becoming the definitive cinematic document of what it's like to be on the inside of this underground party movement with a kick-ass beat.