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D: Peter Odiorne / 82m

Cast: Bre Blair, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Josh Cooke, Colin Egglesfield, Jeremy Gabriel, Jason Gray-Stanford, Sammi Hanratty, Benjamin King, Chrisdine King, Tina Parker, Elizabeth Stillwell, Nicky Whelan

Having graduated from high school, Mack Prescott finds himself at odds with his future, or at least, what it may bring. Twenty-five years later, and on the eve of a high school reunion that he’s hosting at the home that used to belong to the parents of his wife (and high school sweetheart) Emily (Whelan), Mack (Egglesfield) is still ambivalent about his life and where it’s taking him. As many of his teenage friends, some of whom he hasn’t seen in years, begin to arrive, Mack discovers that he’s not the only one with problems. His best friend, Carter (King), drinks too much and has an unhappy marriage; Dick (Gray-Stanford) and his wife, Lydia (King), are struggling financially; and teenage sweethearts Casey (Cooke) and Sam (Blair) are hopeful of rekindling their old romance. Only Marty (Blevins), who suffered a terrible personal tragedy the night everyone was last together, appears to be happy, and then through sobriety. As the evening unfolds, Mack begins to realise what it is to be happy, and why Life has a knack for leading people to where they need to be…

Upon reading that synopsis, you could be forgiven for thinking, Uh-oh, not another movie about angsty middle-aged, middle class people wondering where it all went wrong from the safety of their palatial homes. And you would be right; this is exactly that kind of movie. Thankfully, writer/director Odiorne offers just enough of a spin on this well-worn set up to make The Middle of X an entertaining if resolutely lightweight examination of middle-aged ennui. The drama unfolds in fits and starts, and some of the various sub-plots surrounding Mack and Emily’s fractured marriage – he cheated on her so she did the same – don’t play out as well as others. There’s a sense that the running time has been dictated not so much by the length of the script but by a limited budget, and as a result, those same sub-plots feel truncated. A case in point is Marty, who is given a terrific introduction, and who is set up to be a major character. But once he arrives at the house, his story doesn’t go anywhere, and he’s used as a way of undermining another, minor character who’s quickly disposed of. It’s as if Odiorne had loads of great ideas but didn’t know what to do with them all.

He – and the movie – are much more successful with the comedic elements. There’s a sardonic streak of humour that runs throughout the material, from Carter’s commitment to continual boozing, to Dick’s desperate attempts at nabbing new clients to keep his job afloat. By pricking at the aspirational natures of his characters, Odiorne makes their unhappiness and perceived failures a source of mirth. It’s cruel in places, but much sharper than if we were witnessing their unhappiness as straight drama. This also allows for a clutch of enjoyable performances, with Benjamin King and Whelan on particularly impressive form, while the likes of Cooke, Blair and Blevins are good but don’t have the opportunity to flesh out their roles to better advantage. By the movie’s end, a major wrong has been remedied (if a little too easily), problems have been solved (if only for a while – or until the next reunion), and there’s a moment of shameless manipulation that could have been horribly mawkish but which succeeds thanks to the efforts of the actress involved. It’s moments such as these, though few and far between, that show what Odiorne could do with a bigger budget and a sharper script.

Rating: 6/10 – the material could have made more effort to skewer the pretensions of its self-absorbed characters, and a longer running time could have allowed for more satisfying resolutions to many of the sub-plots, but for a first-time outing as a writer/director, Odiorne acquits himself well enough; The Middle of X may not attract many viewers because of its generic sounding nature, but for those prepared to give it a try, there are enough rewards to make it worth their while.