'The Bachelors' Review: J.K. Simmons Grapples With Grief [LAFF]

The majority of movies at film festivals don't release trailers beforehand, so we often choose which films to see based on the filmmakers involved, the cast, and a brief description. Approaching a movie fresh is a hugely different experience than seeing one that's strategically unveiled three trailers and a barrage of TV spots, and because so much about them is unknown, I find myself watching festival films with a different level of anticipation. Not only am I hoping the film turns out to be good (as I do with every movie I see), but in the back of my mind, I'm secretly hoping to see something revelatory. Something that moves me in a way that a huge studio project might not be able to. Something with an awards-worthy performance, or perhaps something that heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in the world of independent film.

Most of the time, festival films don't live up to those expectations. Sometimes, you just get a movie that's fine, a middle-of-the-road piece of work that neither moves you nor insults your intelligence. Something competently made with respectable actors and a handful of pleasant moments, but you won't ever give it a second thought. That may sound harsh or dismissive, but think about it: if you watch a lot of movies, doesn't that accurately describe a large percentage of them? Such is the case with The Bachelors, Kurt Voelker's exploration of grief, loneliness, and despair through the eyes of two men who have lost the most important woman in their lives.

J.K. Simmons plays Bill, a calculus teacher whose wife dies only a few weeks after a disease diagnosis. Unable to cope in their old house any longer, Bill moves his teenage son Wes (Josh Wiggins) to Los Angeles, where they get a fresh start at a classy all-boys private school as teacher and student. It's here the story splits, with one half following Bill's quest to work through this grief-stricken period of his life, and the other half follows Wes as he tries to woo a classmate (Odeya Rush) who has her own problems at home.

Simmons handles his role as the grieving father with aplomb, and his story is easily the heart and soul of the movie.  Between sessions with his therapist (Harold Perrineau), he strikes up a friendship with the school's French teacher (Julie Delpy), and sparks of romance begin to fly. Delpy floats through this film like a cool breeze, making me wish she was hired more often to breathe life into otherwise boring love interest characters in studio films.

Wiggins' storyline is a bit more forced. He's at an all-boys school, but there's a bus load of female characters who come in to take classes with them for some reason – basically only because the movie needs Wes to be able to form a connection with someone his age. There's an on-the-nose metaphor about grief wrapped up in an explanation of how running cross country races is about pushing through pain head-on and coming out on the other side anyway. And there's a precocious young sibling of the romantic interest who's wise beyond her years. Rush, who looks like the second coming of Mila Kunis, makes her way through playing a tough character largely unscathed, while Wiggins never has a chance to make much of an organic impact with his fairly bland character; his big acting moment comes in a scene that feels so overly written that it took me out of the story.

Middle-of-the-road movies are always the hardest to write about, and unfortunately, The Bachelors falls into that category. It's the definition of a film that's "just OK" – its performances are enough to elevate it above Lifetime movie quality, but they're not outstanding enough that they'll gain any notoriety once the credits roll.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10