I often find the way Hollywood does business to be quite disturbing. A movie such as "The Stupids" starring Tom Arnold can easily get distributed because Tom Arnold banged Roseanne Barr. Too many times these sub-standard talent hacks get their movies distributed simply because they know this person or that person. Let's face it; there is no way in hell that half of those movies even make any money. Distributors and large film companies will repeatedly take chances on shitty films because there is some 2nd or 3rd tier celebrity that may be recognized just enough to get people in the seats and turn a profit.
So, why do I bring this up on a review for the latest Shane Ryan film?
"My Name Is A By Anonymous" is a very well done and powerful film, yet Mr. Ryan was still searching for a distributor the last time that I looked. That isn't just a great example of one of the problems with film making, but it is also a damned shame.
I am going to guess that many people are already familiar with the Alyssa Bustamante case that occurred in Montana. If not, the general overview is that Alyssa was convicted of killing her 9 year old neighbor, Elizabeth Olten, and burying the body in a previously prepared grave. The national media then ran amok with the story once it was learned that Alyssa had killed the child with no apparent motive other than to find out how it felt to do so. I have to believe there is more to the story. I obviously know nothing about the details nor the guilt or innocence of Ms. Bustamante, but that motive seems extremely lacking. After viewing My Name Is A, I suspect that Shane Ryan was also not satisfied with that rather simplistic explanation.
The film had some very lofty reviews to live up to by the time I saw it. When I began watching it, I was immediately thinking that it was going to be way too artsy for my taste and was prepared to hate it. When I got to the end, I was very happy that I had given it a chance.
Ryan tells the story through the negative life experiences of different women. There is Alyssa, but then he uses The Sidekick, The Performer and The Angst to show the life experiences that helped to shape her. I had read one review that indicated that the film does not do enough to explore why the murder occurred. I could not disagree more. This film does a fantastic job of graphically illustrating the type of abuse and mistreatment that has a lasting effect on us as people. The film spends very little time on the murder itself and instead turns its' focus to the behavior and experiences that ultimately create a single personality. There are also moments that make it uncomfortable to view this convicted killer as an average teenager, engaging in the type of behavior that your average, well adjusted teenager would as well.
The casting of this film is flawless. You will be hard pressed to find many indie films that are so well acted. Each person plays their own unique role very well, making the film much more interesting than simply watching a linear story line. The characters each represent some specific aspect of mistreatment, each contributing an overall negative effect on the development of the youth.
The dialogue is very strong as well. The story is made much more engaging because much of the conversation is so fitting for each person and their stage of development. There are a few times that I felt like the conversations were somewhat bizarre and devoid of any substance. However, I suppose that is exactly what occurs when two teenage girls that know each other well get together and talk. This is partially what makes the entire case so disturbing in that everything about the girls seems so normal for much of the movie. It is easier to handle that someone like Ted Bundy engaged in that type of behavior.
As with some other recent projects, Ryan also deals with self injurious behavior very adeptly with a clear social statement. The uncomfortable scenes of cutting are shown. However, they are shown with a hint of compassion and Ryan makes no value judgments of his own. It is shown as a behavior that is essentially a learned coping skill that some people in emotional pain use to feel better, if only for a very short period of time. As a side note, if you have not seen the short film "I'll Cut Myself To Death By The Time You Realize You Should Hug Me", please do so. This short clearly shows how well Ryan is able to send his message of hope to others in pain. I commend him for that short film.
In closing, I did not give many details about this film intentionally. The reason being that I have no desire to give anything away that will spoil what is a very good film viewing experience for most viewers. It is difficult to watch at times, but that was expected given the subject matter. "My Name Is A By Anonymous" is a fantastic accomplishment in a world full of substandard films. The film has a brilliance to it that I did not expect and I recommend it highly. Ryan has taken a tragic story and investigates why it happened without passing his own personal judgment on anyone. That in itself is a noble cause considering that not even the court has attempted to offer a satisfying motive in the case.
Overall, I give this film a score of 8.5 out of 10. It is truly an unforgettable and powerful piece of film making. Mr. Ryan has earned all of the accolades that this film has received.