The Peanut Gallery Reviews Always a Grind
PG Score: 4/10
Always a Grind is available for streaming on Amazon Prime
Always a Grind is a valiant effort from newcomer Joel Betancourt that fails to go anywhere with its brazen approach. There are a few glimmers among the mostly lackluster affair, but they are unable to make up the difference.
The film follows three disillusioned friends who attempt to improve their financial situation through unorthodox means. After learning of the lucrative potential of the adult film industry, they collectively agree to produce a homemade project.
In his directorial debut, Betancourt also takes on the arduous tasks of writing, editing, and shooting the movie. While he should be applauded for going the extra mile, he comes up short from a technical standpoint. The aerial shots are impressive and the highlight of the cinematography, but they are undercut by questionable framing and shaky camerawork. Camera angles and blocking are frequently jarring and detract from his outing.
One of the two biggest drawbacks in Always a Grind is the horrid audio and sound design, which constantly assaults the viewer’s eardrums. The grating feedback carries an uncanny similarity to a 99-cent wing night special at the local karaoke bar. Thankfully, the soundtrack fares better and contains a couple songs that mesh well with the visuals. Unfortunately, the tinny sound is overwhelmingly distracting and completely removes the viewer from what is happening on-screen.
Lack of Identity
The other major negative is the film’s total lack of identity. It aimlessly meanders for 82 minutes without ever locating any semblance of direction or meaningful story. Oscillating between raunchy comedy and misplaced drama, the plot tries to touch upon the real-life struggles that many millennials encounter. When a movie cannot decide if it is the next Zack and Miri Make a Porno or The Pursuit of Happyness, massive problems are bound to ensue.
The main cast consists of Melissa Gonzalez as Amy, Donovan Mullings as Mike, and Jim Dingevan as Steven. The trio are unfairly tested with a disjointed screenplay that feels like it was ravaged by the “genre monster.” It is an amalgamation of juvenile humor, soapy drama, forced criminal elements, and an uninvited Joe Rogan-laced DMT drug trip. This inharmonious combination is further plagued by sequences that long overstay their welcome. On multiple occasions, segments unnecessarily drag on and the added time really does not accomplish much.
The standout of the triumvirate in Always a Grind is Melissa Gonzalez. As Amy, the lead actress effectively embodies the strong-willed character who keeps her bumbling buddies in check as best she can. She exhibits natural comedic timing and range in her first role to date. Gonzalez shows promise and the capacity to hone her craft.
She is joined by Mullings and Dingevan, both of whom make their feature film debuts. The two leads share the same undesirable acting traits, such as exaggerated facial expressions and outlandish delivery. While there are still some laughs to be had, the actors’ inconsistent comedic chops are reflected in many of the punchlines failing to land. There is a case to be made that Mullings and Dingevan’s animated style is better suited to the arena of stage acting.
A bright spot in the supporting cast that Betancourt could have (and should have) made better use of is Zachary James Myers as Marco. The genuinely funny actor takes full advantage of every opportunity in his limited screen time and bears a striking resemblance to the late great John Belushi (National Lampoon’s Animal House). Another underutilized performer is Adam Harrison Katcher as Jack, who does a lot with a little in what may be the movie’s most memorable scene.
Bright Spots, With Some Glaring Flaws
Despite falling short in many areas, the intention behind Joel Betancourt’s first feature-length endeavor is commendable. However, various filmmaking infractions prevent Always a Grind from ever establishing any type of a rhythm.
PG Score: 4/10
(NOTE: Always a Grind was watched and reviewed by both Josh Aboody and Matthew Novak, the Peanut Gallery's two resident film buffs)
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