The story belongs to Eddie (Kentucker Audley), a lonely wanna-be comedian who lives with his mother and doesn't know he's not actually funny. He's a socially inept dreamer in an empty town who spends his days watching spaghetti westerns with his mother and practicing his rambling, punchline-lacking stand-up act into a tape recorder. When he meets the manipulative drifter, Irene (Eléonore Hendricks), he's desperate to impress her, perhaps because she's the only person who pays attention to him.
Like Eddie, Irene has no job, but she insists on videotaping their moments together to send to a man she met on the internet, who presumably sends her money. For Irene, relationships are commerce and Eddie is easy prey. She's using him, but she's every bit as lonely and frustrated as he is.
Defa explained in interviews that Bad Fever's characters are drawn from himself at varying points of time. The impetus for the film came from his interest in the "brokenness of the American Dream," and he's especially interested in characters like Eddie and Irene that are desperate to make an emotional connection with someone but can't. The film was shot in Defa's hometown of Salt Lake City over winter, which gives it a grey pallor that makes Eddie's desperation understandable.
Like other CinemaEast filmmakers, Defa cast a fellow director as his lead, selecting friend Kentucker Audley to portray the mumbling, hyper-talkative but indecipherable Eddie, a move with some irony considering Audley's disinterest in acting and belief that actors should only play themselves. Audley explained to the Huffington Post that the role--which required him to use unfamiliar speech patterns and gestures not his own--made him re-think his own directing philosophy. "I've always made hyper-realistic movies because I could never suspend disbelief, but having played a character like Eddie, I understand on a new level the artistry of make-believe."
When Cinema East producer Maggie Lea watched Bad Fever at this year's SXSW, she said she was taken with the film. "It was lyrical and fit together really well." She explained that Defa's film was suited to the Cinema East ethos. "I want to cover movies that are daring and cover topics that people wouldn’t expect. Something more independent and edgy." As the summer series draws to a close with this last screening, heres to hoping that's a formula that keeps the series going for years to come.
Bad Fever screens Sunday, September 4th at the French Legation Museum. Doors are at 7, and the film plays at sundown. A Q&A with director Dustin Guy Defa will follow, with an after party at Cheer Up Charlie's. Tickets are $3 at the door.