Harbor Island follows a joke writer living in a van as he encounters ominous strangers at night. However, while all eyes are on him, no one laughs at his jokes, and there is a feeling that something unnatural is afoot. It attempts to blend comedy, mystery, and sci-fi within its tight 17-minute run-time.
Love it or hate it, the project marches to the beat of its own drummer. Watching Josh Fadem‘s character tell bad jokes and get stared at by randos didn’t immediately pull me in. However, the longer I stayed with it, the more obsessed I became with trying to figure out what we were getting here. I even started to laugh at the reactions, or lack thereof, these bad jokes got out of the mysterious people watching this character.
Acting once again saves the day
One of the strongest points of this project is the acting. Something about Fadem gives these unfunny jokes a level of charm they don’t deserve. You find yourself rolling your eyes but smiling despite yourself. There is a certain kind of comedy that simply stems from him using this odd occurrence to keep working on his material.
Sidney Jayne Hunt also shines in a just-the-facts role that allows Hunt’s character to get the laughs that the joke writers’ jokes will never get. They have a particularly fun exchange that is possibly my favorite scene. When Fadem’s character corners Matt Olsen and bombards him with a series of bad jokes, we can almost feel Oslen’s internal monologue and groans. This is when it drives home that our protagonist is giving these people much more than they bargained for.
Watch. Rinse. Repeat.
While this is one of those projects that has to be rewatched a few times before fully forming a theory, I’m still excited to talk about it with other people who have (or will watch). We all love indie filmmakers and acknowledge how even something that looks easy to make takes forever and a boatload of dollars. So, while I’m not completely sure I’m picking up what writer-director Calvin Lee Reeder is putting down, I want to. I think it’s in there and possibly just drowning in the applesauce that is my brain at the end of a festival. Worst case scenario, it’s not, but it is still a delightful effort and reminder that sometimes less is more.
We caught this Harbor Island at SXSW 2023 as part of the Independent TV Pilot Program. Be on the lookout for it to hit screens soon so you can check it out for yourself.