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Film explores the teenage mind

Of the Record staff

"Love Is The Drug" director Elliott Lester describes this, his first feature-length film, as the "unraveling of a teenage mind."

The film, part of the Slamdance Film Festival line up, tells the story of Jonah, a Los Angeles prep school loner, who finds himself, the summer after his high school graduation, in with the popular and wealthy, party-hard crowd at school.

The click takes him in after he mentions he works a pharmacy delivery job. They find the potential access to free drugs enough of a reason to invite him over to hang out.

Jonah, played by John Patrick Amedori, pines for Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) an obviously unavailable, sex-obsessed girl whose boyfriend, Troy (Jonathon Trent), cannot keep his hands off of her.

Initially, the story is likely one that you may have already seen: an urban teenage crowd getting high and having sex. But the plot takes a darker, tragic turn when Troy overdoses at a party, making the entire group liable for the responsibility of his death.

The screenplay is the work of seasoned screenplay writer Wesley Strick, who helped to pen "Cape Fear," "Face Off" and "Final Analysis."

Lester, an accomplished commercial and music video director, saw the script as an opportunity to pay homage to some of the films he loved growing up, including "Less Than Zero," and a British film called "Quadrophenia." He was also, in part, influenced by Steven Soderbergh’s "Traffic," he says.

"I would be a liar to say other films didn’t influence me. In the pre-production stage, I would pick 15 films I liked and cut together clips that spoke to me," he explains. "I was enormously influenced by Traffic specifically the scenes with the kids. I always felt that if the story had been longer and existed as a teenage movie it would have been brilliant and in many ways ‘Love Is The Drug’ is an extension of that."

Lester considers the characters to be more sophisticated than kids characters featured in other films. Lester finds the duality and complexity is especially apparent when it comes to Jonah, a character that is introduced as a mild-mannered introvert, who is moved to bouts of aggressive and violent behavior after being rejected by Sarah, whose heart still rests with Troy.

According to Lester, Jonah’s character reflects the essence of what it means to be an adolescent: a solitary figure that seems a bit lost and slightly alienated. "Just because they’re 17 years old, doesn’t mean they’re fools," he observes. "Jonah exploits the very gray areas of the relationships. He’s completely misreading the situation and he’s not able to cope with those emotions. I remember being able to cope with my emotions as a teenager and it was a very difficult thing to do."

For the role, Amedori says he worked at separating himself off-camera from the cast, eating lunch by himself. While the rest of the actors bonded, he purposefully kept a distance so that he couldn’t chime in on an inside joke, he says.

"I tried not to become buddy-buddies with them, so that there was still that slightly awkward tension between us," Amedori explained.

Amedori describes the film as a story about rich kids who think they’re adults and can handle the responsibility when they really don’t know what they’re doing. "I haven’t experienced this stuff first-hand," he confesses, "but I’m sure this goes on."

Amedori graduated from high school at 15, after being home-schooled to make time for acting. Though he can empathize with what it means to feel outside of a group, he recognizes Jonah’s situation at an L.A. prep school as different from his own experience growing up in Baltimore.

"I know what it’s like to be an outsider and what it means to not be the center of attention, but there’s a difference between Jonah as an outsider and me as an outsider," he says. "I kind of stood out, but Jonah didn’t have the ability to talk to people or make friends."

Darryl Hannah plays the role of Jonah’s doting mother, Sandra.

For the role, Hannah wears a brown wig, which goes against her stereotypically glamorous, sultry roles. Her character is the most visible parent in the movie, otherwise, parents are virtually absent.

"It was amazing," Amedori says of his experience working with Hannah. "I never get star struck when I meet people, but it really was just this experience. She’s really cool and down-to-earth. It was really exciting to be able to work with her."

Lester was equally as impressed with Hannah’s contribution to "Love Is The Drug."

"Darryl Hannah was great to work with and very collaborative," he notes. "She walked in with a bagful of goodies and brought a lot of energy to the set."

Though Lester admits he has discovered feature length films to be a mammoth task when compared to music videos, the biggest challenge still is to make, "something good and something honest." He says he’s proud of the film and feels he’s become a better director for it.

"I hope ultimately the audience is entertained," he says. "On one level, you hope you can strike a chord with people, and on the other level, you know, movies are the alternative to bowling, you know what I mean? ‘What am I going to do Friday night? Am I going to go bowling, or watch a movie?’"

For more information, visit http://www.slamdance.com.


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