Director/writer William Dickerson mines his past and his 2012 novel with No Alternative, an uncompromising coming-of-age drama which refuses to pull its punches. Set in a post Kurt Cobain world, this indie’s raw and unflinching storytelling is its greatest asset.
Thomas Harrison (Conor Proft) is the drummer and leader of an alternative band (Matthew Van Oss, Eli Bridges, Aria Shaghasemi) that actually has talent. Sister Bridget (Michaela Cavazos) has been heavily medicated since childhood, and her mental illness wreaks havoc on her life. Bridget’s passion for hip hop is her creative outlet, and as her alter ego Bri Da B she proves that her flow is natural and sarcastically funny. Veteran actors Harry Hamlin and Kathryn Erbe anchor the proceedings as their understandably concerned parents.
William Dickerson’s late sister Briana was also a rapper, and he also was part of a grunge band, so No Alternative actually feels like a movie that was pulled from real life. Under lesser hands this movie could have turned into a preachy and maudlin affair, but Dickerson doesn’t let his story sink into the lower depths. Relative unknowns Proft and Cavazos are an absolute fit in their respective roles, and what seems as a predictable story actually becomes something else altogether (and that’s a very good thing).
Dickerson penned his own book on indie filmmaking, and one would assume he’s put those lessons to use with No Alternative. Working with a low budget, however, gives No Alternative its requisite “punk rock” feel. Sometimes shooting a movie sans the bells and whistles of tons of cash to burn can be a positive, and No Alternative’s scrappy and rough hewn nature simply works.
The story’s most sublime moment comes when Maureen (Erbe), her face wracked with heartbreak, shares a Beatles moment with her daughter. Thanks to Erbe (and Dickerson), I’ll never listen to “Help” the same way again. When framed against the film’s ultimate focus (mental illness and communication), it’s a quietly staggering sequence. As a buttoned down judge and unemotional father, Hamlin also does fine work.
As a Generation X’er, I personally connected to a world dealing with the death of Kurt Cobain. Rock seemed at an all-time high during Nirvana’s run, and its battles to claim hip hop’s throne was undeniable. There is a much different war going on in Dickerson’s tale, but whatever the outcome, the music keeps on playing. Bolstered by solid storytelling and an engaged cast, No Alternative is rarely out of tune. (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
***No Alternative is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand via Gravitas Ventures.