[New York Independent Film Festival] All She Wrote (2018) - Reviewed

Set to screen at the New York Independent Film Festival is All She Wrote, a rather unique take on the romantic dramedy. While the tonal shifts might not work for some viewers, the film is still a surprisingly impressive blend of combat sports, the toll that these sports take on a person, the relationships that are developed afterwards, and music. The end result is something akin to Lunatics: A Love Story meets La La Land and Once mixed with Rocky Balboa and The Wrestler, that features an outstanding score and soundtrack, great fight sequences, terrific camerawork that highlights New York City and Bulgaria, and a stand-out performance from Gary Dourdan.

Aaron (Gary Dourdan) is a former MMA middleweight champion forced into retirement due to a permanent brain injury incurred from his many years of combat sports, leaving him with a form of Alzheimer's that causes constant memory loss. Essentially broke, he earns an income through various musical gigs that take advantage of his celebrity status. He meets Zhana (Sanya Borisova), a Bulgarian immigrant who has her own set of social issues that prevent her from being around large groups of people. Her brother Bobby (Orlin Pavlov), a former kickboxing champion, sees the opportunity to pair the two misfits together, while also convincing Aaron to take one more fight against Bobby in Bulgaria. It’s hard to really put this one into a proper genre as it is many things, at times it’s fairly serious and at other times it’s kind of silly. It has a romance element, but it also doesn’t necessarily fit into the genre all of the time. If anything, writer and director Niki Iliev was attempting to deliver a film that has a little bit of everything, in order to appeal to both the male and female audience.

The directing and cinematography are outstanding. New York City and Bulgaria play as much a part of the movie as any of the cast and crew, serving as an important backdrop to the story. Like other prominent directors that are known for shooting in New York, Iliev made sure to include many outdoor locations in the various scenes with the actors. The film has an excellent score that is filled with beautiful jazz numbers created and performed by Orin Pavlov and Vladimir Mihailov and multiple live songs performed by Dourdan.

The acting is superb, which is mainly due to Dourdan’s performance. The other main actors do a fine job, but ultimately it’s Dourdan who shines brightly here as he also sings and fights inside of a cage. He delivers a soulful turn as a broken down man suffering from a debilitating memory loss, pouring himself into his music and keeping things light by joking about his problems. Many aspects of his portrayal of Aaron echo Mickey Rourke’s performance as randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler, for which Rourke was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category. Had this been a straight drama minus the rom-com touches, we may have been putting Dourdan’s name into the hat for a potential Oscar nomination.

Overall, All She Wrote is an entertaining films that boasts a terrific score and soundtrack, great fight sequences, superb camerawork and a fine performance from Gary Dourdan. 

All She Wrote will play at NYCIFF on May 12th. 

-Raul Vantassle