The common pitfall of low-budget independent features is attempting to present a story that exceeds the film’s financial reach. Low-budget sci-fi is often guilty of this, with its unconvincing visual effects. Even more conventional low-budget films can give in to temptation and ruin an otherwise serviceable movie by trying to present too many or too expensive locations. The result is that audiences get distracted by the unforced flaws and don’t focus on whatever the filmmakers are trying to say. The exact opposite is true for The Last Time You Had Fun. This is a film that was tailored to a small budget and the final product is nothing short of excellence.
Ida (Eliza Coupe) and Clark (Kyle Bornheimer) are strangers and are only alike in that they are both adults approaching middle age who are having relationship problems. Clark is going through a divorce and Ida is separated. To cheer them up, Ida’s sister, Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Clark’s friend, Will (Demetri Martin), take the lovelorn Ida and Clark out for drinks. By chance, they all end up at the same bar, strike up a conversation and decide to let the night take them where it will. But while the night takes the group to bright spots of recaptured youth, it will also lead them down dark memory lanes.
For any low-budget feature to be successful, it must be built on a foundation of solid writing. And for the uninitiated, screenwriting goes well beyond the dialogue; it essentially dictates where everything will happen. In this regard, Hal Haberman crafted a very smart script that ensured engaging, dialogue-focused scenes could be presented in mostly one location without it feeling inorganic to the film. In this case, that one location is a limousine. Not only does this location choice save money, but because it’s mobile it still gives the film a sense of being much bigger than it is.
Production concerns aside, the script is also simply well-written. It stumbles early on with cliché precocious children and unnecessarily crass dialogue with the limo driver (Charlyne Yi), but once the four main characters meet, the exchanges are all poignant and natural. While the characters all maintain a thin veneer of being “movie characters”, by and large, they also feel like people any viewer might know, and the observations they make are things viewers might think but never say. There are, of course, absurd scenes thrown in for comedy’s sake, so audiences shouldn’t be worried that The Last Time You Had Fun is just a stand-up comedy routine fashioned into dialogue. There is a journey here, and there is adventure, such as it is.
The casting is also very good. Not only does everyone deliver their lines with a deeper understanding of why they’re saying what they’re saying, but all of the actors actually look their parts. Whether it’s Mary Elizabeth Ellis’ squishy young mother or Eliza Coupe’s sexy and hard-edged elegance, the women don’t even have to speak to understand who their characters are. Kyle Bornheimer, with his goofy smile and roundish face actually does look like the kind of nice guy who would be blindsided by a divorce. Of the four principals, Demetri Martin is the only one who needed a little more work. While he handles his character well, more direction could have better molded him into the youth-chaser his character seems to be. Instead, he comes off a little too reserved.
Considering that there are so many low-budget independent films that get it wrong, it’s very refreshing to watch a film like The Last Time You Had Fun that gets it very right. It’s a film with something to say that will speak the most to audiences of a particular amount of life experience. But anyone who understands the one-way passage of life will walk away from this film feeling at least a little understood, and that’s the best reason to watch any film.