Friday, April 9, 2021

Wheeler Review: Savor the Music and Soul of Stephen Dorff's Transformation

Stephen Dorff	...	Wheeler Kris Kristofferson	Kris Kristofferson	...	Self Audrey Spillman	Audrey Spillman	...	Self Bobby Tomberlin	Bobby Tomberlin	...	Self Bart Herbison	Bart Herbison	...	Self Jim Norman	Jim Norman	...	Self (as Jim Ed Norman) Travis Meadows	Travis Meadows	...	Self Anastasia Munoz	Anastasia Munoz	...	Jill Rest of cast listed alphabetically: Josh Adelstein	Josh Adelstein	...	Bobby T's Friend William Todd Austin	William Todd Austin	...	Toddzilla

Release date: March 30, 2021 (Digital re-release)
Running time: 98 minutes
Director: Ryan Ross
Writers: Stephen Dorff, Ryan Ross
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, Audrey Spillman

Wheeler (Stephen Dorff) is an aspiring musician from Kaufman, Texas who travels to Nashville with the lifelong dream of trying his hand at country music. By embodying the title character under prosthetic make up, actor Stephen Dorff successfully infiltrates Music City and takes his character on an authentic singer/songwriter journey. With the help of key allies on the ground, “Wheeler” converses with real people in real locations, with every musical number performed live. The line between reality and fiction blurs as Wheeler chases his dream in this touching tribute to old school country legends.

David Bates	...	Curb Studio Assistant Engineer Eddie Bayers	Eddie Bayers	...	Self Frances Bell	Frances Bell	...	Self Dena Brown	Dena Brown	...	Bobby's Idle Hour Bartender Sherri Callahan	Sherri Callahan	...	Hermitage Waitress Dorothy Daniel	Dorothy Daniel		 Jennie DiDominzio	Jennie DiDominzio	...	Music City Bar Bartender Ron Harman	Ron Harman	...	Bus Tour Guide Mary Haynes	Mary Haynes	...	NSAI Receptionist Mike Johnson	Mike Johnson	...	Self Jeff King	Jeff King	...	Self Jennifer Lewis	Jennifer Lewis	...	Audrey's Friend Dossett Marchese	Dossett Marchese	...	Mike Speedy Meister	Speedy Meister	...	Self Marsha Miller	Marsha Miller	...	Self (as Dr. Marsha Miller) William Minor	William Minor	...	The Lodge Caretaker Meredith Mosley	Meredith Mosley	...	Self
Wheeler is an interesting project; a documentary style film that has Stephen Dorff completely transforming into an aspiring country music singer.  The film has an overarching story that involves actors and musicians interacting with Wheeler, but the musical performances are Dorff performing live.  It's a strange scenario as it is not simply a documentary style film, but rather a film that has aspects of real performances.  And Dorff is really good as Wheeler.  He does come off as sounding like he's from another time, but he can play multiple instruments and has a great voice.  I really enjoyed hearing his songs and even if you're not a country music fan, you will find plenty to like about his singing.  

And although the film is an odd one, it is different enough that I enjoyed my time with Wheeler.  Although the film follows Wheeler's rise in the music scene, it does have a nice, slow pace.  The film invites you to just enjoy the slow pace and live in the moment.  And I also really liked the Wheeler character, someone who is so joyful and heartfelt about his music that he can't help but rub off on you.  The film felt like a labor of love by all involved.  And Wheeler's experience in Nashville were heartening to see; the local music community embraced him and cheered him on.  It didn't seem competitive despite how difficult that industry is.  It felt like a genuinely supportive climate of music fans.  

However, the documentary style of the film can seem off, especially when there are some people who are not in on the experience.  It was tough to tell where the movie ended and where the performances began, and who was in on the story.  My general thought is that everyone who plays any role in this film is in on it, but is the nice waitress Wheeler meets part of the crew or a random person?  This leads to other questions about the movie.  I loved the supportive atmosphere by the musicians and music executives, but were those simply for the camera?  Nashville came off as a wonderful place to explore music, but I couldn't help but think it was a partial marketing message.  And the slow pace of the film could definitely be a negative as sometimes Wheeler will just go off on tangents; something that would not be too uncommon in a real documentary but it felt a little odd in a movie.  And the film is a fun journey but does seem to end too quickly for my liking.  I wanted to see more of Wheeler's story and hear more of his songs.

Wheeler is an interesting experiment with a transformative performance by Stephen Dorff, letting you follow the wonderful music and savor the views of his alter ego.

Rent it.

Meredith Mosley	...	Self Erika Wollam Nichols	Erika Wollam Nichols	...	Bluebird Host Jimmy Nichols	Jimmy Nichols	...	Self Wayne Pierce	Wayne Pierce	...	Self Harold Ross	Harold Ross	...	Self Ryan Ross	Ryan Ross	...	Bobby Ross Jimmie Lee Sloas	Jimmie Lee Sloas	...	Self Jimmy Stegall	Jimmy Stegall	...	Self Blair Thomas	Blair Thomas	...	Self Marcia Campbell Thomas	Marcia Campbell Thomas	...	Radio DJ Biff Watson	Biff Watson	...	Self Craig White	Craig White	...	Curb Studio Engineer Michael Woodrum	Michael Woodrum	...	Kristofferson Studio Engineer Roxie Randle	Roxie Randle	...	Extra (uncredited)   Directed by  Ryan Ross	Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)   Stephen Dorff	 Ryan Ross
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Wheeler was originally released in 2017, but has been rereleased on Bluray and digital on March 30, 2021.

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