Over a series of summer weekends in New York and New Jersey, using mostly borrowed equipment, James Benson and Barnardo Britto shot a movie that I consider to be something approaching Generation Why’s answer to Richard Linklater’s film debut, Slacker. The way in which these two artists have tackled their first feature-length film, the way in which it eloquently captures mood, tone, and understated emotion, much more than the interesting story the film has to tell, is why I draw the comparison to Linklater’s seminal masterpiece. With Nothing Yet, Benson and Britto, both under the legal drinking age at the time the film was made, have crafted something memorable and insightful, a confident and surprisingly mature examination of the seemingly impossible artistic aspirations of a generation as typified by the fateful tour of three young men in a band and one of their younger sisters.
James (played by the film’s co-director/writer, Mr. Benson) and Robert (Robert Asch) are in a band together. In the days leading up to a paltry three-day tour ultimately culminating with a show at a small club in NYC and a meeting with an indie label owner, the two of them argue over whether to reenlist their former drummer, Sam (Sam Franklin). Among other annoying personality traits, Sam’s penchant for taking his shirt off during live performances and complete inability to comprehend punctuality has made him unbearable to Robert, who sees him as an insincere privileged kid slumming it with working musicians — musicians who want to do this for a living. But Sam can play the drums real fast, and the three of them head off on tour with Sam’s little sister, Sarah (Sarah Willis).
The real substance of the film is borne out when Nothing Yet turns into a road movie. We all know how the natural progression and movement of road movies lend themselves to analogous progression and movement of character development, but Benson and Britto pull this off in such a natural way that one has to wonder if this isn’t merely an exquisite retelling of a horrible tour experience they actually shared. Yes, the young characters gradually reveal more about themselves as the band makes progress on their mini-tour, but there’s something a little more special going on, and it’s a joy to watch things unfold the way that the filmmakers choose to let them. In terms of its tone, Nothing Yet shares some common ground with the films of Andrew Bujalski, most especially in the way that Benson and Britto manage to capture sequences of dialogue that seem completely organic and unscripted but are cohesive enough to indicate that these guys must’ve planned them. It’s pretty apparent that this is the product of a self-assuredness on the part of the directors and the friends and family they convinced to help them make Nothing Yet that keeps the film from succumbing to the dangers inherent in character-driven low-budget comedies. The film is completely lacking in pretense and posturing, which is a little bit incredible considering the youth and ostensibly inexperienced intelligence of its makers.
Nothing Yet is particularly engaging because of the way in which it perfectly exemplifies what’s great about collaborative art. Every aspect of this movie inadvertently serves as an advertisement for what’s possible in DIY moviemaking. Benson and Britto have forged a genuinely singular work of art with a very limited set of materials and a knack for effective collaboration. These two young men have established for themselves a strong, unique voice, and I can only imagine what they’ll do next if someone gives them a bit more money and some extended time off from work.