The hard realities of the family drama circling the inheritance of a loved one’s estate rarely require a boost from a fictional license. It is more common than many families might care to admit just how sharp the drama and confrontation are when the time arrives for the executor of a parent’s last will and testament to carry out their duties. The question of inheritance can be as much engulfed in the family’s unresolved conflicts, secrets, disappointments and emotional hurt as it is in the value, treasure and the financial return involved in the estate. And, sometimes shocking truths emerge, often transforming and liberating in their power. Even in families where the relationship surface seems to be perfectly amicable and placid, a parent’s death can rock the landscape when it comes to the estate and a family member’s inherited portion.
In The Whole Lot, a wholly Utah-made independent feature length film, the family drama arising from such an event is given a riveting rendition, rich in tension and bolstered by marvelous results in all aspects of production. The Overcranked Productions film, directed by Connor Rickman and written by Matthew Ivan Bennett, will receive its world premiere on the closing night of the 2022 Philadelphia Independent Film Festival on June 11 at 5:45 p.m., at the SeraPhi Studios, the festival’s main screening venue.
The film, with a tight running time of just under 75 minutes, is an outstanding example of cinematic entrepreneurialism par excellence. Directing a self-financed project, which was augmented by a Next Level Grant from the Utah Film Commission, Rickman achieves remarkable impact on a $15,000 budget. He recruited Bennett, one of Utah’s top playwrights who demonstrates handily his finesse in the screenwriting genre. Rickman previously worked with Bennett on a 2016 short film, B+A, which played in the Fearless Filmmaking section of the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival. The Utah Review at the time called it a collaboration which shines through in every respect. That film highlighted a couple who have the perfect marriage but treat each other in anything but sweet, sugar-coated loving ways.
Meanwhile, The Whole Lot, which has three principal characters, is positioned on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Della, who is at a crossroads in her life, is hoping to settle as quickly as possible the duties of carrying out her father’s wishes and estate distribution. Her father committed suicide. The core family already had been split apart, with her mother living elsewhere. This is also the first time in a while that Della has seen her estranged brother, Jamie.
Della and her husband, Eli, arrive at her father’s home. The tension is palpable but it also continues simmering to what will become a roiling boil. Eli is drawn to the prospects of Della’s inheritance for financing a business deal he has concocted. Meanwhile, Jamie always has detested Eli. In fact, his nickname for Eli is “tofu,” suggesting that he is utterly tasteless. Jamie’s life also has been less than fulfilling and he sees the inheritance as his opportunity to find financial independence, or as he claims.
The prize of the estate is the father’s collection of classic rare cars that have been beautifully restored. Jamie makes clear that he helped his father restore them. Among the models are a classic Porsche 911 and a 1956 Corvette. Both men can barely restrain themselves from the financial prospects the cars bring. The production team obviously did their homework. These cars could command six figures in selling price and, in some instances, well more than a $1 million.
Trying to honor her father’s wishes, Della says that Jamie can select one car from the collection, an offer that her brother refuses. But, Eli also does not want Jamie to have his preference, as he is hoping to sell vehicles from the collection to move on his business idea. The dispute intensifies, even as Della tries to mediate. Della’s resolve crumbles in the meantime, which ends up making both men upset. As the tension hits its boiling point, Della realizes what she must do.
Bennett, whose plays are well known for packing dramatic punch spread among one, two or three actors in minimalistic productions, delivers fully on the expectations in this new film. The chemistry between Rickman and Bennett for fulfilling the creative expectations in their respective roles is evident.
The film stars Utah-based actors Sarah McLoney, Blake Webb and Aaron Kramer. It also features an original score by local composer Russell Huiskamp. The film was shot in five days on location in the Snyderville Basin in Utah’s Summit County. In a director’s statement, Rickman explains, “The Whole Lot was born from a need to create without permissions imposed by external gatekeepers. Having tried and failed so many times to fund other scripts through traditional means, I decided instead to focus on the possible.” He adds, they “adhered to … strict limits to the script and production philosophy: one location, minimal characters, a story unfolding in real-time, long takes relying heavily on the actors’ timing and a script written to enable their success.”
The result is gratifying: an excellent adult drama with a realistic storyline and dialogue, aided by elegant, straightforward production design and solid, credible acting.