Sunny Side Up

One Last Thing … Makes Its Premiere at the Lobero

by Molly Freedenberg

One Last Thing … isn’t exactly the type of movie Sunny Mabrey is known for — if she’s known for anything. Action fans might recognize her from XXX: State of the Union, in which she played a senator’s daughter known for her cleavage. And sci-fi die-hards might remember her from a 2002 episode of the Buffy spin-off TV show Angel. But her turn in this sweet, funny independent film by childhood friends Alex Steyermark (director) and Barry Stringfellow (writer) might just change all that.

The premise of the film is this: 16-year-old Dylan Jamieson (played to uncanny perfection by Michael Angarano of Almost Famous and Lords of Dogtown acclaim) is dying of cancer. When given the chance to make a wish on national television, he sidesteps his plan to go fishing with his football hero and instead asks for what he really wants: a weekend alone with supermodel Nikki Sinclair (Mabrey). The film follows Jamieson on an extended adventure as the audience wonders: Will he get his wish?

The premise has plenty of potential for problems: teen-movie predictability, sentimentality, and cheesiness among them. And it does make some missteps. Mabrey is hard to believe as a supermodel, for example, partly because she looks (by no fault of her own, of course) more Billabong than Badgley Mischka, and partly because the script’s treatment of the modeling world seems goofy and one-dimensional.

Cynthia Nixon is infinitely believable — in fact, she’s phenomenal — as Dylan’s mom. But it’s hard to see her as the blue-collar wife she’s supposed to be, and just as hard to imagine Ethan Hawke as her husband. And several recurring themes feel underdeveloped and unbelievable, more like exposed plot devices than necessary parts of the story.

But somehow, those pitfalls don’t manage to ruin the movie. Far from it. The film strikes the perfect tone between dark humor and sincere sadness, and the chemistry between characters was palpable. In fact, the strength of the acting and the authenticity of the story seemed to carry the film when the script left it behind. It was almost as though the actors really were living the story, a fact that Mabrey confirmed.

“The whole movie just felt like we were all experiencing something beautiful and real together,” she said. It helped that Mabrey, whose character wrestles with her demons involving grief and loss, was going through a break-up at the time. “It made the crying scenes easier,” she joked. It also helped that the small budget formed a close-knit atmosphere on set. “You don’t have your trailer to hide out in, so it almost feels like summer camp. … It pulls people closer together.”

Between scenes she would hang out with Angarano and his on-screen best friends, Matt Bush and Gideon Glick, who were “so much fun to hang out with,” she said. “I felt like I was back at their age again.” Or she’d bond with Gina Gershon, who plays her agent, about music (both actors also are in bands).

The resulting effect is a half-suspension of disbelief: maybe I don’t buy that Nikki’s a supermodel, but I do believe her emotional connection to Dylan. Which means Mabrey could be just around the corner from more and more serious, interesting, less cleavage-dependent parts.

“It’s been going really well,” she said of her career. But “I would like to broaden my horizons.”

4•1•1 One Last Thing … has its Santa Barbara premiere on Friday, March 31, at the Lobero Theatre. The screening, which is being hosted by the Cinema Society and will also feature a Q&A afterwards with the director, is free, but get there by 7 p.m. to snag seats.

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