There’s plenty of melodrama but precious little truthfulness in Todd Stephens’ alternately trite and cloying road movie about a young Ohio woman, a would-be singer who’s brooded for years over her mother’s abandonment, who travels with her Goth chum to New York to compete in a competition for Stevie Nicks impersonators–at the very bar where her wayward mother is known to have worked. In theory a touching, even perceptive film could be fashioned from this plot; unfortunately, “Gypsy 83” isn’t it.
Sara Rue plays Gypsy Vale, the overweight misfit who works a dead-end job at Foto Shop, dresses in black, and seems to have no friends but for her easygoing ex-musician dad (John Doe) and her much younger Goth buddy, Clive (Kett Turton), who’s inevitably gay. Gypsy and Clive dance around in the local graveyard (which they stack, as is the custom in movies nowadays, with banks of perfectly-arranged lit candles for effect) and dream of the day when the can escape the confining atmosphere of home-town Sandusky. But when Clive, surfing the web, comes across an announcement of the upcoming Stevie Nicks contest, it’s Gypy who balks at going–concerned about leaving her father just as her mother once left them both. After some false starts, however, they’re off, and “Gypsy 83” becomes a fairly obvious road-trip of self-discovery in which the duo meet a series of offbeat characters whose problems make them aware of their own flaws and longings. There’s the frat guy (Paulo Costanzo), whom they first meet in a karaoke bar where he humiliates some pledges and Gypsy first steps on stage (with unfortunate results), and who later gets surprisingly close to Clive. And the bar’s hostess, an aging chanteuse named Bambi LeBleau (Karen Black), who takes them home with her and seems about to make their group a trio until the truth about her is revealed. And, best of all, a hitch-hiking Amish youngster named Zechariah (Anson Scoville) whom Gypsy and Clive give a lift to, and who connects with Gypsy as part of his rebellion against his past life–a moment that offers the girl hope that her luck may truly be changing. The last act of the movie deals with the partners’ reception in New York, where Gypsy gains a kind of closure concerning her mother but Clive discovers some unhappy truths about the world. But be sure both have gained insight and maturity from their shared experience.
All this sounds better on the page than it plays on the screen. As portrayed, much too stridently, by Rue, Gypsy is an irritatingly self-absorbed character for whom it’s difficult to work up any sympathy, and though Clive is a more generous and interesting sort, Turton doesn’t have the acting chops to make him convincing (at some points he even seems to be glancing into the camera). Doe’s part is basically a walk-on, and though Black has more screen time, that’s not necessarily an advantage, since her floridly larger-than-life turn comes perilously close to camp before trailing off into sentiment. Costanzo certainly persuades as a brainless college kid, and physically Scoville fills the bill as the wandering Amish lad–the problem with both is that the script puts them into plot turns that seem arbitrary and implausible. (Indeed, the material involving Scoville may make you think that the recent UPN show “Amish in the City” was a model of good taste and discretion by comparison.) The relatively tacky production offers little to engage the eye while the brain is being insulted.
One would like to be able to praise “Gypsy 83”–after all, filmmakers in Sandusky probably need all the encouragement one can give them. But like its protagonists, it’s a very provincial item that probably shouldn’t have ventured across the state line.