On any given day, a film of any length is in production, hidden somewhere among the cushy neighborhoods and trendy coffeehouses within Austin's city limits. But The Bounceback, a romantic comedy-drama, or “com-ma” as supporting actor Zach Cregger refers to it, doesn’t just rely on Austin for unique shots, it fully embraces the “Keep Austin Weird” culture that makes the city so unique.
It’s one thing to film a first date sequence at Justine’s Brasserie, but it's something else entirely to establish that location as meaningful to the characters.
The film, directed by SXSW regular Bryan Poyser, portrays the entire city as where hope springs eternal. Young couple Stan and Cathy, played by Michael Stahl-David and Ashley Bell, fall in love at Justine’s and have the idyllic relationship in Austin, but love falls apart when Cathy leaves for school in New York and Stan heads to L.A. to become a screenwriter.
Both fall into gloom and despair living on opposite coasts, and when Stan catches a reference to Cathy’s planned visit to Austin via a bit of Facebook stalking, he too packs his bags in a desperate attempt to control fate. The decisions to leave the East and West Coasts for the new promised land in the Texas Hill Country calls to mind the flight at the beginning of The Graduate, when a young and directionless Benjamin Braddock returns to California, the former land of milk and honey for 20-somethings.
It’s in their parallel returns to Austin that both are reunited with their respective best friends, whose own relationship with one another is also in shambles, but in a more over-the-top and comedic fashion. Sara Paxton plays the foul-mouthed yet lovable friend of Kathy, Kara, while Zach Cregger stands in for Stan’s slacker friend, Jeff, who drives around in a taco van with a busted door.
Their reasons for breaking up revolve around sexual fulfillment, or lack thereof, and come across as shallow, but at the same time they provide the comedic foil to Stan and Cathy’s high-stakes failed relationship.
The task also falls to the best friends to separately reintroduce Stan and Cathy to Austin’s unique culture and atmosphere in order to make them forget about one another. Most entertainingly, Jeff introduces Stan to a true Austin original: the Air Sex Championships.
In a brief interview, director Bryan Poyser says that the original idea was for a Guitar Hero competition to act as a backdrop for the showdown between the warring Kara and Jeff, but Air Sex stepped in as a better option thanks to a suggestion by Poyser’s wife.
“We just wanted to make something that was a little more specific to Austin,” says Poyser, “and there’s the opportunity to do uncomfortable comedy.”
Poyser even admits fearing that someone would beat him to the punch since Air Sex has grown in exposure, saying, “I was terrified that someone was going to take the idea, and so I was like ‘We gotta shoot this fucking movie’. It’s too ripe of an opportunity.”
The Air Sex sequences are the most outrageous out of the entire film, and first time viewers will probably feel just as uncomfortable as Stan watching Jeff and his roommates practicing in their apartment.
But the film works just as well outside of the realm of the absurd, with Stan and Cathy continuing on their parallel paths in the capital city as they come across new relationships in serendipitous meetings with an aspiring musician and a veteran Marine turned vet, respectively.
While these simultaneous new romantic interests on the same night seem too much of a coincidence, they do serve the purpose of contrasting with Stan’s original attempt to force destiny into working out perfectly for himself and Cathy. If a lesson is drawn from the plot, it’s that fate cannot be controlled, because the universe will work things out however it damn well pleases.
But that’s okay, because sometimes the universe will work out in everyone’s favor.