Remember when films took you away to a not so different place, yet one that let you escape your own life? Movies that were filled with interesting characters, perhaps one that you could even identify with? Or somehow, that imperfect character who was the focal point of the story allowed you to root for him even with all his flaws? “All Square,” which premiered at the SXSW film festival, is just that movie. It’s good old-fashioned storytelling complete with characters we love, identify with, and hope beyond hope that they make it across home plate.
Michael Kelly stars in “All Square,” the story of a small-town bookie, following in his not-so-successful father’s footsteps, after failing to be the town’s baseball prodigy oh-so-many years ago. John (Kelly) is constantly behind the eight ball, attempting to collect on debts, having a heart when he shouldn’t and trying to be tough in all the wrong ways. Caring for his elderly father, paying medical bills and for cigarettes (oh, the irony) John attempts to up the ante and score it big…in a youth baseball league gambling ring he has devised. After a one-night stand with Debbie (Pamela Adion), a former flame, John connects with her son Brian, a pitcher with perhaps some skills yet to be mined. John’s foresight is a bit lacking and his actions not getting any votes for stand in father of the year, his plan spirals out of control, with the fallout unpredictable—at least to John.
Kelly’s role as John, the lovable loser who never seems to learn a lesson, is certainly a departure from his typical roles as Doug Stamper in “House of Cards,” or numerous law enforcement agents. He seems to comfortably slip into this role as blue collar worker with a heart as well his Carharts. His comedic timing in this dark comedy allows him to show a different and very entertaining side of his skills which I hope we will see more of in the future.
Partnering with a child actor who must have the skills to lead Kelly’s character to develop is a tough act to find, but Sheps is a natural. The love and antagonistic relationship the two develop give such depth to not only their characters, but to the overall story. Sheps portrays “Brian” with touch of maturity while still maintaining his youthful innocence that John could only dream to have had at such a young age. And Sheps never takes this role over-the-top as some films and actors might have done. He always finds that level of reality to bring to the character, allowing the audience to somehow find compassion for both main characters.
The cast is exceptional as is the writing and succinct and deft direction by John Hyams. The storyline of “All Square” has a touch of drama and suspense as well as comedy, albeit most of it either ironic or pitch black. With writing and characters that connect with the viewer, the film is sure to be an audience pleaser as it comes full circle. Filming in Dundalk, MD, the understated suburb of Baltimore, the town’s personality shines through to accentuate the story and its message. Adion, Josh Lucas, Harris Yulin, and a cameo from Yeardley Smith (interview coming soon) round out the talented cast of characters to create a story that is as engaging as it is entertaining.
“All Square” will screen again at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13 and 15. For more information, go to SXSW FILM SCHEDULE
Watch for the upcoming interview with Yeardley Smith, Producer (voice of Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons”)