Review by Sean Boelman
Written, directed by, and starring Will Dennis, Vanilla is a new road comedy with some impressively insightful themes. Despite a bit of a rocky and conventional start, it eventually becomes apparent that Dennis has more to say with his film, and as a result, it’s a refreshing and enjoyable watch.
The movie follows two strangers who agree to go on a cross-country road trip together to sell a van in an attempt to raise money to save one of their family businesses. The road trip stuff here is charming if mostly unexceptional, but it is the additional layers of depth that Dennis adds in the form of subplots that makes the film stand out.
What starts out seeming like a relatively standard romance instead reveals itself to be a surprisingly nuanced look at relationship culture in the modern world. It admittedly takes the movie quite a while to get to the place where it is going, but once it does, it comes from a place of sincerity and honesty that is pretty exceptional for an indie comedy like this.
The most interesting part of the film is its commentary on the gig economy, with a particular focus on a controversial kind of work. It seems that this type of work is becoming more and more common in this cyber-connected world, and this movie is coming out at a point that couldn’t be more timely.
After one suspends the disbelief of two people who just met agreeing to go on a road trip together, the dynamic between the two characters is actually quite good. This isn’t some saccharine romantic comedy of love at first sight — it’s an honest look at the state of love and romance today.
Dennis and Kelsea Bauman have great chemistry together and are a large part of the film’s narrative momentum. Bauman in particular shows a great deal of talent and potential as a comedic lead, hitting the humorous beats perfectly. Eddie Alfan is also quite good in his brief but funny supporting role.
On a technical level, the movie does leave a bit to be desired, but the script is so strong that it almost doesn’t matter. Travelogues are typically well-known for featuring some gorgeous (or at least appealing) cinematography of the locations in which it is set, but that is noticeably missing here. The setting seems less like a part of the film and more like a narrative obligation, which is disappointing.
Vanilla admittedly doesn’t get off to the strongest start, but once it finds its footing, it’s an admirably insightful dramedy. It would have been nice had the first half been trimmed in favor of an expanded second half, but it’s solid nevertheless.
Vanilla hits VOD on April 28.