Maybe this is an unpopular view, but films about film-making are not my cup of tea. Sure, as a film-lover, I get what the appeal might be of preaching to the cinematically converted. But Wonder of Me introspection isn’t a great look, particularly at a time when cinemas are struggling due to cash flow and lack of product. With big awards-season films like Babylon and The Fabelmans turning the cameras on the film-making process, a self-congratulation spree risks being a massive turn-off for regular punters. 5-25-77 taps into the opposite vibe; as the title suggests, this film is about the release of Star Wars. But this isn’t the story of a creative figure involved in MAKING the film, but someone was the first to SEE the movie. We have reached the point in cinema where just having seen Star Wars can make you worth a biopic; some twenty years in the making, Johnson’s film makes something fresh and original from that rather goofy notion, and one that is well worth the wait.
Despite my trepidation, Patrick Reed Johnson’s 5-25-77 turns out to be a bittersweet film about how a guy who somehow saw Star Wars long before anyone else, and then struggled with personal and family issues to see the completed film on the day of release. Twenty years in the making, and bearing a credit for the late Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, this is a long and detailed look at the special role that movies play in our life. John Francis Daley plays our directorial surrogate Pat Johnson from Illinois, using his Super-8 camera in his bid to be the next Spielberg via home movies like Requiem for the Planet of the Apes. His mom, adept at telesales, manages to organise an intro to special effects legend Douglas Trumbull, but when Trumbull turns out to be busy on the day of Pat’s trip to LA, he ends up getting a tour of the studio where Close Encounters is being filmed. And as part of that trip, Pat meets Steven Spielberg and gets to be the first to watch an assembly cut of Star Wars, and the world he once knew becomes a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away…
The force of nostalgia is strong in this one, and 5-25-77 has tonnes of detail; from Pat’s ecstatic first viewing of 2001 and the score providing a soundtrack to his life, to frustrated conversations with those unwilling to go along with the film’s pretentions, we’re always on the moment in charting Pat’s evolution. We see Pat making his own Silent Running fan fiction, and reading Starlog magazine, but there’s more going on here that just cultural name-checks; Pat has a fairly chaotic love life, and jumps too easily to positive conclusions, and Johnson creates depth by exploring the shallowness of his proxy hero. ‘For some people, movies are what you do when you’re tired of real life. For you, real life is what you do when your not watching movies…’ admonishes Pat best friend, and 5-25-77 manages to suggest the exhausting underbelly of die-hard cinematic obsession.
‘Never f*** with a Kubrick fan,’ Pat offers in a declamatory, defiant ending, as he finally manages to find some kind of balance between his interest in film and his actual existence. There’s lively, winning support from Steven Coulter as his worldly bestie and Colleen Camp as Pat’s mom, and lots of visual inventiveness to dramatise Pat’s journey. Seeing Star Wars being made chimes with Pat’s skills; for Lucas and his crew to be using Steve Austin-Six Million Dollar Man dolls as X Wing fighters pilots creates an instant brotherhood with Pat’s homemade, bespoke efforts. 5-25-77 is a valentine to the past, a la Licorice Pizza, but doubling down on the film and Star Wars content to good effect. It’s an ingenious coming of age passion project that should be required viewing for Star Wars fans who’ll love to see the camera swooping and diving past the original models, but might also appreciate the gentle reminder that Star Wars was only a movie, after all.
5-25-77 arrives on digital/VOD in the United States from November 8th 2022.
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