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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Procrastination Blues
by Betty Jo Tucker

At one time or another, almost everyone has put off doing an academic assignment until the last minute. The Utopian Society, directed by John P. Aguirre, shows what happens when six college students are faced with completing a challenging group project all in one night. A motley crew, these individuals hardly know one another and seem more intent on irritating each other than working together on a sociology paper describing what they would consider a true utopia. 

However, if the assignment isn’t completed and given at least a “C” grade, Ken (Kelvin Yu) will lose his scholarship, so he displays more motivation at first than the other group members. Aaliyah (Kristen Ariza) prefers practicing basketball with her friends; Tanci (Malin Akerman) wants to talk about her wonderful sorority sisters; Justin (Austin Nichols) likes to boast about his sexual conquests; Nera (Sam Doumit) makes fun of everyone; and Caleb (Mat Hostetler) tries to boss the group.       

Before the night is over, booze flows, secrets are shared, masks removed, sexual alliances develop and each person becomes more empathetic toward the others. I know what you’re thinking. But how did the group project turn out? Because revealing that would spoil things for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, I'll just say the assignment is not as important as the inter-personal dynamics here. It's simply the MacGuffin -- a clever gimmick to hook us into the story.  Still, as a former college teacher, I couldn’t help wanting to see more emphasis on such an intriguing project.  

The Utopian Society features a cast of promising young actors who play their roles well -- although I had trouble understanding Doumit’s dialogue sometimes. Since making this film, Nichols has appeared in Glory Road, Akerman in The Heartbreak Kid, Hostetler in TV's Cold Case, Ariza in TV's The Unit, Doumit in The Hot Chick and Yu (who turns in the most nuanced performance here) in Grandma's Boy.

While the movie is quite talky, that’s par for the course in a dramedy like this. Yes, there's some humor, but it’s definitely not the ribald kind found in Animal House or American Pie. Directing from a script by Jason Preston, Aguirre deserves praise for handling such serious issues as stereotyping and sexual abuse in a thought-provoking way.

“I shot the film in 11 days and we made the schedule and came under budget,” says Aguirre about his debut feature film. He had only fifty thousand dollars for his entire shooting budget. “Sure there were a lot of sacrifices made in production value, but he actors got to strut their stuff,” Aguirre declares.

This little independent film was selected in over 40 film festivals across the country and has won various awards including “Best Director” at the Honolulu International Festival and “Best First Feature” at the Wine Country Film Festival. For more information, visit The Utopian Society  official Website.

(Released by Polyphonic Records; not rated by MPAA, but may not be suitable for persons under the age of 17 because of sexual content and language.)

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