Review: Wake Up, Leonard

Written and directed by Kat Mills Martin, who stars in the film alongside co-writers Nigel DeFriez and Kira Pearson, Leonard’s manifested a date with his ex – now he’s just gotta fix his vibration. Also starring: Kanoa Goo and Dominique Toney.

Most people can relate to the concept of an ex you can’t get rid of, the person who will always be able to get under your skin. Enter Leonard (Nigel DeFriez), a man who struggles with self-confidence and is ready to jump when he receives a text from the re-appearing ex. What then follows is a journey for him to find inner peace and not have such a strong desire for validation from the wrong places. It explores the idea of self-worth and reflection, as well as the power and importance of friendship. It’s a relatable and sweet, slightly quirky story but it’s also relatively simple. Meaning that it misses out on creating a more memorable experience, needing to connect more strongly on an emotional level, we’re only cracking the surface of its different themes.

Stylistically however, Kat Mills Martin makes a few unusual choices, framing Leonard’s self-reflection in several different lights. First being to use extremely nostalgic home video footage which works well, and secondly to take the film down a strange metaphorical path which may come across very odd to some viewers but again, surprisingly, it works. The style is wandering between comedy and a desire for something more artistic, it’s as if it wants to approach the idea of weird, arthouse or eccentric but never fully commits. Although it does perfectly capture the plentiful awkwardness that this story has to offer.

Nigel DeFriez gives us an update on the classic bumbling male protagonist, unlucky in love, struggling with their career and self-doubt and maybe not entirely aware of boundaries. He’s intensely insecure but relatable, he doesn’t push his performance too hard for a laugh, it’s funny but not over the top. However, it all feels fairly familiar, DeFriez does a good job but doesn’t really give us anything truly new. Kira Pearson on the other hand feels slightly fresher, helping lift the comedy more and also not being the stereotypical friend who knows best, giving unrequested advice. She brings a more freewheeling presence and supportive nature. Kat Mills Martin also gives us a portrayal of a new age styled character but does so with a satisfyingly stubborn and impatient twist.

Wake Up, Leonard dives into the way an ex can make your emotions change on a dime, vulnerability, insecurity, friendship and defining your self-worth. It’s funny and relatable, with a few unusual touches to its style, Martin feeds the comedy into her direction as well as trying to expand the comfort zone. They’re a solid writing and acting team but it’s not really clear what the film is giving us that we haven’t seen before, it feels as though it wants to further branch out but never got there. Missing out on a more unique or emotionally impactful tone.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of Raindance Film Festival 2022 | For more info and to watch the trailer click here

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