What if you discover that you were born to steal?
That’s the central premise of Skills Like This, a post-collegiate comedy about finding your place in the world—even if it is criminal. Monty Miranda’s debut film sets itself apart from other noted independent comedies by dropping the indie-cute hip and distances itself from other similar slacker-flicks by infusing a high level of fast-paced rock-and-roll energy. A previous rougher version of the film won the Audience Award at SXSW in 2007, so there's little surprise that its final version is the coolest, funniest movie I saw at this year’s Indiefest.
Screenwriter and star Spencer Berger is Max, a dead-end playwright with a huge Jewfro whose stage play "Onion Dance" is so incomprehensibly bad that his grandfather goes into a coma watching it, raising the question “Can someone see something so shitty that they almost die from it?” Clearly, that’s a profound question, but you won’t find the answer by watching this film. Because it ain’t shitty. At all.
After deciding to retire his pen, Max sleepwalks for two weeks, eventually slumming with his two buddies at their favorite Mexican cafe. An offhand comment or two later from his clueless jock friend Tommy (a very funny scene-stealing performance by Brian D. Phelan) about robbing the bank across the street, Max crosses to the other side—literally and figuratively—and calmly robs the bank with the confidence of a seasoned pro. Returning to his pals with a bag of cash, Max breaks his slump as he has finally discovered his true calling: Larceny!
To its credit, the film never presents Max’s skills as anything more than an interesting proposition. If you’ve always thought that you were never good at anything, that you would never amount to anything, and your entire life is a series of failures, and then you find out that you have a very special God-given talent—as illegal as it is—do you ignore that gift? Hmm. The film doesn’t linger on the morality of this premise too long, though, keeping itself very light and just absurd enough for us to buy into the shenanigans. Adding a sweet knot to Max’s ethical tightrope is the cute bank teller (Kerry Knuppe) he robs and successfully romances the very same night—giant ‘fro notwithstanding. Their relationship at first confirms Tommy’s enthusiastic claim that “All chicks wanna bang bank robbers!”, but quickly becomes a decision point for Max, who discovers that kleptomania is ultimately an unattractive quality in a guy if you’re not dating someone named Wynona.
While the excessively eager Tommy finds Max’s newfound talent incredibly sexy, their considerably more uptight friend Dave (Gabriel Tigerman, who also co-wrote the story) freaks out over the crime committed, insisting that they should return the loot. That’s just a-okay for Max, since he’s more into the new skills’ confidence boost than its monetary benefits. There’s plenty to like in Skills Like This’ whacked-out morality tale, but the big laughs come from the awesome rapport between these three guys, who all bounce off one another like believable old friends. Some of the funniest bits are in a subplot that involves Tommy, who—inspired by Max’s sudden career change—finally decides to get a job, with a miserable Dave witnessing one hilarious interview after another.
Skills Like This has great pacing that keeps the laughs consistent and breathes fresh air into the overplayed arrested development sub-genre that’s often not as witty as they believe themselves to be. This film doesn’t put up a front, and simply lets its skills speak for themselves.