Director Ron Judkins draws from personal experience in his latest film, Finding Neighbors. His latest effort is a story about an author who has reached the end of his professional career. Caddyshack’s Michael O’Keefe (in the film) has rode out his wave of fame, and, over a period of 30 years, has seen all that the entertainment industry has to offer. Yet, after so much time, as he looks back he feels he’s been sleepwalking through it all.
It’s only after waking up – three decades later, and in what feels like a hangover – he’s able to assess where he is in life. Suffice to say she’s not happy. Many films tell the tale of life in Hollywood, and the rise and fall of A-list personalities. But Judkins, being that his protagonist is an author (not a star or director), focuses on someone with less notoriety. As such, his fall from public eye was less impacting.
Judkins has a story to tell, but it’s not about loss. The film is about how quickly things come into your life, when the lead character, Sam Walters (O’Keefe), finds himself out of options, and ideas. It’s tough to move forward when your accomplishments have hit a wall, and your talents (and the well from which they are drawn) seem all dried up.
Set far from the glamorous Hollywood Hills, Judkins’ film is set in a quaint little suburb. It’s more in keeping with how talent on the West Coast lives and not the million dollar houses overlooking Malibu. It’s an interesting character study as we following O’Keefe coming to grips with the fact he may never get back on the horse.
Things are so far from optimal that he getting out of bed in the morning a Herculean task. His wife is the new bread-winner, he’s uncomfortable in social situations, and Sam is the epitome of someone who is lost passion in his career but has no other options. It’s kind of scary because whether any working person can reach the level of success that Sam Walters, at one point, had attained, there comes a time that we all question how far we will go in our careers. The bigger question is how do we re-kindle talent and capture old glories…or simply maintain a level enough head to keep moving forward satisfactorily.
It’s not a hard luck story, but one that is easily understood, and it’s easy to relate to Sam’s dilemma. More than a fair amount of time Sam does the self-depreciating things to himself, and the reason for his unhappiness is his contentment to have a pity party for himself. So it is only in the unlikeliest of friendships that Sam finds there’s more he has to do and, better, he finds he’s able to do it just by trying.
He can have a better relationship with his wife, he can interact with people in social situations, he can still write. There’s also another message of love – the idea that it’s not something that is taken and it is also given if you are willing to accept it.
Judkins (who has a fantastic history in the sound industry working with the likes of Steven Spielberg and also taking home two Academy Awards for his efforts) shares the story that is not quite autobiographical, but on that’s universal. Anyone in their 30s and 40s may find this a little uncomfortable to watch – because the plot may parallel what some are currently facing in their own professions – but it’s also a message of hope and less of a warning call.