GRAND UNIFIED THEORY
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: DAVID RAY
STARRING: SCOTT BELLIS, KENDALL CROSS, MAXWELL HAYNES, and EMMA GRABINSKY
When you hear the word ‘astrophysics,’ fun and laughter doesn’t come to mind. However, thanks to David Ray’s new film “Grand Unified Theory,” we find humor in this very topic. In the film, Albert is a father who is also a professor of astrophysics. He sees the universe, but doesn’t always see his own world clearly as he navigates marriage and fatherhood. On the surface, he and his family seem to be ordinary, going through typical growing pains. But as we get to know them, they each have their unfulfilled wishes and quests in life. In other words, they are just like you and me. What makes this film truly stand out is the way the story is told. Their lives parallel the professor’s lectures, creating hilariously insightful and unexpected situations. It’s truly a fun look at life, love, family, and what it all means.
Albert (Scott Bellis) is a brilliant and beloved professor, striving to move up in his career. Rita (Kendall Cross) is a stay-at-home mom who, like most moms, is the center of everyone’s universe as she makes lunches that no one takes (or appreciates) and still manages to keep everything on track. Gordon lives at home and attends the local university. He’s as bright as his father, but lacks confidence as he awkwardly and humorously seeks love. And Lauren is an intelligent and tough-as-nails high school senior, constantly questioning authority and equality as she looks to her future. Each of these characters has their own story to tell, but just like the universe, one action effects another and ultimately they intersect into an insightful and heartfelt story. There might be an unexpected comet or two that throws off each of their stories in the most comedic of ways.
The entire cast melds seamlessly into a believable family. Rita perfectly represents any 40-something mom as she is frustrated and bored in life and wants more. Her relationship with her kids, especially Lauren, is so real and familiar as the two argue and discuss the day-to-day business. The dialogue between the two of them is so natural that you feel like you’re in their home. And Lauren’s bold questioning of her father’s perceptibly unequal decision-making, takes Albert down the proverbial rabbit hole as there is no “right” answer. And poor Gordon. He’s so sweet and so smart, but so awkward. We all knew a “Gordon” growing up. There always has to be a counterbalance character to our main character and that comes in the form of Victor (AndrewMcNee) who believes in magic. Throw science out the window with this guy and this adds the element of ridiculousness that is absolutely perfect.
The film addresses not just parenthood, but sex and drugs, as well as communication. Each character has secrets and these lead to the funniest situations based on their own guilt. The kids underestimate their parents, as all kids do, but as Albert points out he’s smart enough to figure out a tracking device on a phone. Lauren is simply shocked by his techie abilities. One of the many memorable lines in the movie is, “I am an astrophysicist…What does smart mean to you?” And you’ve never seen a more unusual yet comedic verbal fight than one among college science professors that devolves into a food fight. I won’t even begin to tell you how these two intelligent parents argue. So there!
Ray has found the ideal cast to portray each of these slightly over-the-top characters. Bellis could easily be mistaken for a professor on a college campus and his lectures we hear make me want to go back to college. Cross portrays Rita with intuitive depth and skillful comedic timing. And I can’t imagine anyone but Haynes as Gordon. Grabinsky is simply stellar as Lauren as she reminds me of my own daughter. She exhibits such skill and natural instinct in giving us a complexly deep character that she didn’t seem to be acting. This is one of the best ensemble casts since “Don’t Think Twice.”
The cinematography and set design are also a part of this film that should be praised. The lectures are beautifully filmed, bringing you not only into the large college classroom, but into the vast universe to which he is speaking. Every scene is impeccably coordinated to be visually striking. And with a script that is intellectually stimulating and funny, you have a recipe for great film.
The title of the film has many meanings on many levels. The scientific definition of the Grand Unified Theory is not yet complete—just like our lives. In the film, we discover the universe and its rules and we learn about this family’s world and the ever changing rules that govern them. It’s a coming-of-age-for-a-family kind of film. While it tackles some rather deep concepts, (metacognition, interconnectivity) it keeps it lighthearted and fun. Making sense of this world isn’t always easy, but this family reminds us of the times we need to cherish, even when things don’t follow the rules.
Don’t miss this brilliant comedy full of heart! For more information about the film and how to see it at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival taking place November 10-12, 2016, go to ABOUT THE FESTIVAL, FOR TICKETS, FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE FILM