Director(s): Paul Starkman
Writer(s): Paul Starkman
Cast: Arnstar, Shyrley Rodriguez, Joshua Boone
Synopsis: Dreaming of a better future, a young DJ confronts his family struggles in the streets of Brooklyn.
One thing that is so wonderful about film is the ability to see and visit places you may never go to. What is so wonderful about indie film is that these places feel honest about the situations that are put in front of them, and feel so much more attainable than if the same project was helmed by a major studio. There is a sense of fantasy, but it is a fantasy you can relate with rather than being fantasy you can only dream of.
In the case of Wheels, Paul Starkman, better known for his work in reality TV, created a narrative that feels more real and honest than any reality TV show could ever be. This movie is a love letter to Brooklyn, DJs, and dream, and by the time this film was over, I felt much more connected to these ideas that were being pitched to me. I have never been to Brooklyn, nor do I know much about Brooklyn, but Starkman was able to capture the area with the right amount of fantasy and reality to help me understand and feel Brooklyn like I never have before. It is a pure testament to be able to capture a place with such intimacy, and it truly showed throughout the film.
I think one of the biggest factors that helped feed into the aura of Brooklyn was the way Starkman tried to make this small borough feel like the entire world, and he did a pretty good job at it. Max, played pretty well by Arnstar, never talked about getting out of the city. His dreams were never to be the biggest DJ in the world or to become the most famous DJ to ever live. No, he just wanted to do what he loved, in the place that he loved. This film at times felt like a breath of fresh air because of that. We have movies all the time that cover wanting to leave home. They talk about how being home is holding them back and that they need to escape to be able to fully fly.
Here, that wasn’t the case. No one in the film ever denied Brooklyn or felt like this was the place that was holding them back, instead, they embraced the place they were from and wanted to make a name for themselves in the area they lived. Maybe this is a small thing to grasp on to, but it is nice seeing a sort of pride for their home rather than a rejection of it.
I thought the film was also fairly easy to digest. Shot in beautiful black and white, you were able to think of the film in this fantastical light that caused you to really sit with the message. As Liza, played beautifully by Shyrley Rodriguez, says, “quick doesn’t work, if you want real results you have to start small and build it up”. There is never a shortcut to your dream or a faster path. If it is something you really want, then it will happen on your own terms. Being at the point in my life that I am now, that really stuck with me and is a reminder that sometimes we need to slow down if we truly want to chase our dreams. I thought the third act, especially the end of this movie, was a great testament to that.
Final: Shot in beautiful black and white, Wheels is a touching and real story about chasing your dreams. Paul Starkman crafted a love letter to Brooklyn, DJs, and dreams in a very intimate way for a first time feature director. An indie gem.
My Score: B
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.