Directed by Kyle Smith
"You realize that it's August, right?" says a ringer invited to play football with a group of old friends in Turkey Bowl. He's referring to the name of the competition, as well as its prize: a full Butterball turkey. Name and trophy imply that this annual game was once played in the fall, around Thanksgiving. But as one of the players half-explains, it's hard to get everyone together on a single day lately—since college, actually, which is when most of these twentysomethings seem to have met.
Watching ten friends—or rather, seven friends, one girlfriend, and two ringers brought in by the high-spirited Kerry (Kerry Bishe)—play a round of touch football provides the entire framework for this hour-long feature, and you'd be forgiven the assumption that this is mumblecore with a little more quasi-alpha action (fumblecore?). But as the movie opens on players waiting for everyone else to show up, the pregame entrances are less naturalistic (as well as less self-consciously muffled) than your average post-collegiate dramedy of late; the dialogue has more snap, even with the extra exposition.
Once the game kicks off, exposition recedes as writer-director Kyle Smith avoids shoehorning extra drama into his simple structure: rivalries flare up and dissipate while the characters seem unsure about when they're actually resentful or just getting into the game. Smith cannily introduces Kerry's friends Sergio (Sergio Villarreal) and Troy (Troy Buchanan) not just to diversify the otherwise lily-white line-up but also to act as audience-surrogate newcomers to this group—though not as recipients of much backstory. Bits of information about the pre-existing relationships slip through, but the focus remains on the field: sloppy passes, totally bullshit trick plays, and the occasional moment of semi-athletic prowess.
Smith doesn't quite have an eye for sun-dappled compositions (experienced semi-mumblecore observer Aaron Katz probably would've made this game gorgeous instead of merely warm), and 65 minutes isn't much time to get to know ten characters. But much of the cast, all going by their actual first names, make vivid impressions, particularly Bob (Bob Turton), who might be a cokehead, and the caustic but hilarious Morgan (Morgan Beck), whose relationship with his buddy's girlfriend Zoe (Zoe Perry) seems to undergo a subtle shift from outright hostility to vaguely friendly hostility. If Turkey Bowl is light on moments of transcendence, even small ones, it's because Smith remains so dedicated to his appealingly limited frame. The undercurrents of regret and drifting apart are enough: "I haven't made any new friends," one member of the group sadly confesses between plays, even while noting that these friends rarely get together anymore. Part of me wishes for a semi-annual series a la the 7 Up documentaries, but Smith shows admirable capacity for leaving well enough alone.
Opens June 3 at the reRun Gastropub Theater