Area residents were certainly ready for their close-up in the locally shot "Belleville," and whether they had brief screen time or a bigger role, our friends and neighbors lend this film a credibility.
Besides, it's fun recognizing community theater performers and a few who have professional credits 40-feet high on the Lincoln Theatre screen. Even non-actors, like Joan Braswell of the Belleville Historical Society, appear to be seasoned actors and are believable.
The story concerns an alien Neila (Ted Trent) who plops down at the homestead of a widowed farmer who has become a recluse since his wife's untimely passing.
Trent, who grew up here and is the film's producer, plays the childlike, naive outsider whose demeanor puzzles the townsfolk who encounter him, while others find his openness refreshing. He bonds with Willie (Tim O'Leary) over PBRs and s'mores.
The crabby neighbor lady Arlene (Cooper Shaw) -- who drives a car with Missouri license plates! -- tussles with the widower about this strange visitor that she is suspicious of, wary that he has criminal intentions.
Set mostly on farmland and such rural outskirts as Millstadt and Freeburg, the other highlight is recognizing familiar territory. The iconic Veterans Fountain in downtown Belleville is included, as are quaint locations downtown and about town.
Striving to be sweet and sentimental, the leisurely paced movie succeeds to a certain extent, but hampered by plot curveballs and loose ends that are not resolved.
The foreigner-in-a-strange-land plot is not new, and there are derivative elements that we've seen in other films, such as Jeff Bridges' "Starman," where he inhabits the body of Karen Allen's late husband, and must learn about being human.
Neila miraculously picks up American behavior and easy command of the English language, but is also confused by other customs, so that makes the story uneven.
The use of the interview device common in such TV shows as "The Office" and "Modern Family" allows for more local faces, but the choppy storytelling makes it come across as contrived and winds up disjointed.
The look of the film is lovely, with nice camera work by Brett Frager. Rachel Farrell excelled at creating authentic sets, and the location choices were effective.
The original score by Geoffrey Burch is inobtrusive and suits the presentation, and the bluegrass musicians are outstanding.
O'Leary, as the emotionally stunted farmer, and Shaw, as the exasperated neighbor, stand out among the leads, not making a false move. Kate Barton is convincing as the wife, but needed more screen time to help with the backstory and plot twists.
The film aims to elevate the sense of community that is apparent in small towns, and accomplishes that. Making that connection, especially with the the smiling, dancing extras, is what is most memorable about this version of "Belleville."
For those who want to see more local people and locations, be sure to check out Cinema St. Louis' annual St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase every summer.
"Belleville" is an earnest effort and capitalizes on local pride. The 15 minutes of fame will continue with the Christmas movie "Expect Delays" -- look forward to again spotlighting our very talented regional performers.
2 1/2 stars
Starring: Ted Trent, Tim O'Leary, Cooper Shaw, Kate Barton
Director: Dan Steadman