Review by Andrew Sweatman, Senior Editor, Arthouse Garage
It’s a rare thing for a person’s day job to perfectly align with their passion. That’s why so many have side-hustles, online businesses, or, like the characters in The Incoherents, a band. This indie comedy/drama from director Jared Barel and writer Jeff Auer tells the story of a man who gets the band back together and then has to juggle responsibilities from his home, his work and his creative outlet— the indie rock group that gives this film its title. It’s not an altogether uncommon story, but what makes The Incoherents stand out is its particular setting: the lead character and his bandmates are men of a certain age, Gen X-ers who play 90s rock in modern day New York.
Bruce, played by screenwriter Jeff Auer, is our protagonist. He’s bored by his time-consuming job as a paralegal and seems to have few social connections. After a burst of creativity, he petitions his wife Liz, and she gives him the go-ahead to follow his old dream of being a rockstar. His guitar player, Jimmy (Alex Emanuel), is the hardest to convince. There’s bad blood because of Bruce’s quitting the band back in 1995, but he comes around as do fellow bandmates Keith (Walter Hoffman) and Tyler (Casey Clark). They begin chasing the dream but things quickly get rocky as Bruce feels torn between Liz and the band, making some questionable decisions along the way and putting his marriage and his job in jeopardy in pursuit of musical greatness.
The Incoherents captures the feeling of being pulled in different directions incredibly well, and anyone who has ever tried to pursue an artistic passion in addition to a day job will feel some affinity with Bruce, even while judging his decisions. The film is also filled with strong performances, perhaps most notably that of Kate Arrington as Liz, whose relationship with Bruce ends up being the most compelling part of the story. Their relationship, and the relationship between Bruce and bandmate Jimmy, are the reason for this film’s success and a testament to the really great screenwriting on display. The minor characters are all well-written too, making this world feel lived in and authentic. There’s also a nice pace to the story, plenty of humor, and a surprising 90s rock cameo adding to this film’s powers.
What could have used a bit more work are a few of the storylines. As compelling as the marriage plot is, it feels a bit incomplete in the end. Scenes between Bruce and Liz were the most interesting in the film, but we’re not left with a strong sense of how they are planning to make things work in the future. A few more concrete relationship steps could have bolstered the final act of this film. There’s also a scene near the end that deals with social media. The band’s is nonexistent, and they are oblivious to the fact that younger bands are using it to get all the attention. In 2020, it rings a bit false that anyone under the age of 50 would completely ignore social media in any business pursuit, and it would have been much more believable if they were using Facebook but just sucked at it and had to up their game, or if the film had made some stronger statement about the role social media plays in art and commerce.
What’s clear after watching The Incoherents is that director Jared Barel and writer/star Jeff Auer are incredibly talented filmmakers. The story’s unique pairing of Gen X characters with the setting of the modern day rock scene, along with a genuine sweetness and love for its characters, serve to make it memorable among inspirational dramas. Anyone who has ever dealt with adversity while following a dream will likely have trouble resisting this film’s strong emotional hooks. There’s such a universality to the story that even if you have no connection whatsoever to the musical niche the band fills, you’ll have a great time with The Incoherents.