In Captain Hagen’s Bed & Breakfast, which I caught this past weekend at the New York Indie Film Festival, writer/director Rafael Friedan accomplishes the considerable feat of creating a truly laugh out-loud comedy that also offers a few poignant moments. Shot over a little more than two weeks in Sag Harbor, Long Island, in a rambling house whose nooks and crannies practically make it a supporting character, the story follows a disparate group of four couples spending what they expect to be an uneventful weekend at a B&B run by Captain Hagen (William Beckwith, Scent of a Woman), an eccentric retired German sailor who enjoys doling out free advice. That this all doesn’t devolve into ridiculousness or a dull attempt at farce is due largely to Friedan’s writing, whose witty dialogue often gives surprising lift to situations that might otherwise feel cliché. Yes, various guests sleep with various guests but often in unexpected pairings, such as the sultry Kate (Bri Oglu) who takes the virginity of the Captain’s hyperactive and very naïve son, Felix (Dino Petrera). Later, when at last sad-sack Jared (Tyler Bellmon), who pines for long-time friend Kate who loves him “like a brother” ends up in bed with the knock-out Sandra (Jessamine Kelley) who just broke off her engagement to the frustrated Preston (Andrew J. Cornelius, Just Eat It), the scene feels right and satisfying, thanks to Friedan’s bold decision to film with the actors in the nude and daylight streaming in through the windows. It’s a hot and sexy scene but its realistic manner gives it a refreshing frankness.
Similarly, two scenes that could have easily gone awry are presented with a simplicity that gives them an unexpected resonance: the Captain emptying an urn of his dead wife’s ashes into the bay, finally attempting to free himself of hanging on to the past, and a scene involving a long-married couple with children (Rhonda Ayers and Lynn Berg) who admit to each other that when they made love (after several attempts at finding themselves no longer connecting sexually) they were each thinking of other people. That Friedan doesn’t belabor this mutual confession allows the humor to become affecting.
It’s often small moments that make a film linger for days after seeing it and two such moments worth mentioning are especially memorable for one being dramatic and the other comedic. After the Captain has disposed of his dead wife’s ashes, he moves a framed photo of her from its prominent place on a mantelpiece to a side table; he is ready to emerge from the shadow of her memory but not abandon her presence in his daily life. In another scene, goofy surfer dude Darren (Zach Wegner) barges in on Sandra and Preston in bed; an exasperated Preston orders him out of the room and Darren leaves, but then pops back in to wish Preston a good night. It’s a completely frivolous joke, fitting for the flighty Darren, but one of many moments throughout the film where Friedan admirably gives a funny situation a little extra room to breath and become funnier than expected. The film itself is a great example of independent filmmaking where limited resources are creatively mined; kudos to cast member Chris Wandell (who plays Rico, Darren’s studly fellow surfer-dude) who also handled production and costume design, crucial elements for a film set mostly in the single location of the house.
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