Tribeca 2022: Wes Schlagenauf is Dying

Directed by: Parker Seaman
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Anna Harrison


Pandemic movies are, by and large, horrible ideas—at least in my esteemed opinion. “Wes Schlagenauf is Dying” is one such ill-advised pandemic movie, but merrily skirts around many of the issues its fellows face: instead of being nauseatingly self-serious and mournful (don’t we have enough of that outside? Save it for the inevitable Oscar-bait dramas in a few decades), “Wes Schlagenauf” maintains a crucial sense of levity without skirting into callousness, despite what its title may suggest. Director Parker Seaman and his co-writer, Devin Das, keep a light touch, 

The titular Wes Schlagenauf (played by none other than Wes Schlagenauf), pre-Covid, is an unhappy actor; though his director friends, Devin and Parker (co-writers Devin Das and Parker Seaman, the latter of whom also serves as director), try in vain to energize Wes about the work they do together (cheap commercials in dinosaur costumes), but Wes, having burnt out in Los Angeles, storms off back home to Idaho. Devin and Parker let their friendship slide by the wayside, and then Covid hits, forcing Devin and Parker into their own bubbles, which Wes is not a part of. (Here editor Ian Skalski perfectly conveys the bizarre physics of Covid time, rapidly cutting between Parker and Devin doing the same motions day after day with the passing of weeks only conveyed by their changing outfits.)

When Wes contacts his two friends to let them know he has Covid, Devin and Parker sense an opportunity: they will use their road trip as an opportunity to make their own “Little Miss Sunshine,” replete with drone shots—if Devin will only let Parker buy a drone—as the two exploit their friend’s illness to fund their own careers, and on the way several ugly truths get revealed, as happens in any classic road trip movie (and that, after all, is what Devin and Parker set out to make).

Though a very selfish endeavor, Das and Seaman (their real selves, not the fictionalized versions) inject “Wes Schlagenauf is Dying” with enough self-awareness to bypass any eye-rolling aggrandizement. They know their characters are insufferable at moments, they know that movies about movie making can be obnoxious and masturbatory, and they know Covid is a very odd topic to handle, so what could have been an unpleasant movie instead turns into something self-reflexive and fun. It’s not groundbreaking, but there is undeniable enjoyment to be had in watching three friends making a movie together about three friends making a movie together. “Wes Sclagenauf is Dying” is one Covid movie that can stay.

“Wes Schlagenauf is Dying” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival.

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