Burning Bodhi – Day 2: The 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival

Film festIt’s Sunday in Sedona, and already crowds have lined in and around theatres for the 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival.

RozAmong the several highlights to look for today is a second showing of the Chicago documentary, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago later this afternoon; a sneak preview of an animated film set to open in theatres this spring from Paramount Pictures, The Little Prince, plus a live performance from singer/entertainer Roslyn Kind and her band in a show that sold out in New York City.

A film that had its initial showing yesterday will get a second showing today at Harkins Sedona 6, Theatre 5. Remember tuning in to TV’s The Big Bang Theory last year and wondering why Kaley Cuoco had cut her hair?  Here’s why.  It’s a review of the drama Burning Bodhi.


Bodhi posterFrom the outset, after a pleasant opening shot of fluffy clouds hovering over a panoramic, mountainous landscape followed by a second shot of what looks like potentially, dark, stormy skies, there’s comes an immediate, heavy feeling of something burdensome suddenly brewing on the horizon.

A young man from New Mexico known simply as Bodhi has died of an aneurysm. We know nothing about him or even his full name, and the film is telling us nothing more. As his Facebook page states, he’s simply Bodhi, and it’s right there on the Home Page of Facebook where his friends discover what has occurred. “Is this a joke?” asks college student Dylan (Landon Liboiron) after he’s climbed out of bed and does what he presumably does most mornings; checks his laptop.

It’s certainly no joke, and for the next several minutes, we cut from friend to friend, each of whom knew Bodhi from earlier days. Each character receives the news and each deals with it in their own way. “There’s got to be a service, or something,” states Miguel (Eli Vargas), and there will be, but it’s in New Mexico, and Dylan, Miguel and several others need to drop whatever they’re doing and get themselves down there.

Bodhi 2

In the way The Big Chill dealt with a group of friends who unite after years of being apart in order to pay respects to a departed friend, so it is with the cast of Burning Bodhi, only the temperament, the rhythm and the overall feel is vastly different. Here, there’s no dancing around the kitchen table to The Temptations. Director Matthew McDuffie uses younger characters to tell his story and he does it on a widescreen with a much somber, humorless tone. There’s nothing to celebrate here, least of all the passing of a friend at such an early age.

These are mostly characters not long out of high school, and it’s their youth and occasionally their lack of maturity that creates the dramas and conflicts that follow. By coming together to pay their respects to the departed Bodhi they also have the opportunity of confronting each other and coming to terms with what made them drift apart in the first place.

Bodhi 1There are names you’ll recognize, and if not the names, then certainly the faces. Virginia Madsen plays Naomi, Dylan’s estranged mother who left the family years ago, but has now returned, desperately hoping to make up for time she lost. “People change, constantly,” she tells her son who is less than pleased with seeing her. Sasha Pieterse, best known from TV’s Pretty Little Liars, plays free-spirit Aria, a pregnant teenager who has left home and is on her way to California for no discernible reason other than, “There’re stars and palm trees.” Plus there’s Cody Horn, seen on TV’s The Office and last year’s horror thriller Demonic, as Ember, the tattooed pot smoker who suggests that everyone should get matching tattoos in Bodhi’s honor, and instead of attending a funeral, they should call it a fun-eral in order to raise spirits and maybe even have an ok time.

Bodhi 3But the attention will deservedly go to Kaley Cuoco as Katy, the troubled, drug-addled young woman who once went to jail but now has to live with her grandmother (Juanita Trad) during probation or she gets a year behind bars. “She just went crazy,” we’re told. “Cops, high speed chase. They had to taze her.”

For a performer whose natural comedic abilities and solid comic timing has helped elevate TV’s The Big Bang Theory to the phenomenally successful sitcom that it is, Kaley does a remarkably impressive job of convincing with a character who appears to be the polar opposite of her TV counterpart. “Before I die,” Katy states with a mournful demeanor, “I’d like one day where I don’t hate myself.

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But out of all the problems each of these characters either carry or simply create due to inexperience or a lack of knowing how to handle things, before Bodhi’s ashes are dispersed not far from those mountains we saw in the opening shot, it’s Virginia Madsen’s Naomi that sums things up.  It’s what each young character should know after attempting change and before giving up.  “It’s never too late to try.”

Burning Bodhi looks soon to be set for a theatrical release.  If you missed the film’s initial Saturday showing, you can catch it again later today, Sunday, February 21, 3:15pm at Harkins Sedona 6.

Posted in 2016 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

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