The scotch calms the nerves while the milk soothes the stomach -- that's the odd balance in this scruffy, atmospheric film that should win admirers on the art house circuit. Equal parts "Barfly" and "Swingers", the mix doesn't always completely jell, but "Scotch and Milk" is a well-made story of lovelorn angst and fast-footed carousing that should appeal to noir fans and connoisseurs of off-center storytelling.
First-time filmmaker Adam Goldberg, already an accomplished story mixologist, has fashioned what one might blithely peg as a booze noir. In this offbeat refreshment, Goldberg also stars as Jim, a disconsolate fringer whose girlfriend Ilsa (Clea Lewis
) has given him the heave-ho. Jim is a sensitive guy and, quite understandably, shell-shocked by his loss. But he is also a bit of an old-time romantic, and Jim manages to sublimate his depression into, well, self-destructive wallowing -- he takes to boozing, chasing inappropriate women and hanging out at grungy jazz joints. Blue turns to gray as the alcohol, women and sounds soothe Jim's love wounds.
Narratively, screenwriter-director Goldberg's swizzle stick sometimes lets the story line drift and coagulate into stagnant stretches, but overall the tonalities and asides are so amusing and atmospheric that we're always engaged and intrigued. Visually, "Scotch and Milk" is first-rate noir, drenched with gritty looks and emotionally charged compositions. Highest praise to Goldberg as director and cinematographer Mark Putnam for the accomplished chiaroscuro lighting that imbues the film with an aptly fractured tone, perfect for the main character's state of mind. Jeffrey Texas Schell's production design is also perfect, a blend of romantic artifacts washed over with a grimy texture.
As the despondent lover, Goldberg is credible in his wallowing and regenerative energies. His drifter, aimless friends are well-played: A round at the bar for Nicky Katt
, Giovanni Ribisi
, Cole Hauser
, Rio Hackford
and Phil Maturano
. As a nice garnish, Jimmy Scott lends cheeky jazz sounds to the story, adding just the right buzz to this downbeat ditty.
SCOTCH AND MILK
Credits: Producers: Robert Bauer, Francesca Silvestri; Screenwriter-director: Adam Goldberg; Co-producer: Adrienne Gruben; Executive producers: Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt
, Earl Goldberg; Director of photography: Mark Putnam; Production designer: Jeffrey Texas Schell; Editors: Annette Davey
, Adam Goldberg, Max Heller; Costume designer: Carol Katt; Casting: Mary Vernieu
, Anne McCarthy; Co-executive producer: Thomas Haden Church; Associate producers: Mary Vernieu
, Marty Cohen; Sound mixers: B.J. Lehn, Erik Magnus
, Rich Wilkinson. Cast: Jim: Adam Goldberg; Ray: Nicky Katt
. Ilsa: Clea Lewis; Marty: Giovanni Ribisi; Johnny: Cole Hauser; Stanley: Rio Hackford; Otto: Phil Maturano; Armand: Ajay Naidu; Val: Ricardo Richards; Jimmy Scott: Himself. Black & white/stereo. Running time --117 minutes.