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  • Writer's pictureAlex Leptos

REVIEW: 'Nicole' (2020), a dark comedy-drama feature by James Schroeder

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Nicole is the story of a mysterious woman who is desperate to find love. She meets a gentleman named John on-line. They go on a first date and from there the story takes many twists and turns. What happens to Nicole and John? The audience must decide for themselves.

Nicole was inspired by the filmmakers and films that I have fallen in love with over the years - Welles, Hitchcock, Polanski, Scorsese, De Palma (and many others). I have been working in the entertainment business for 20 years and Nicole represents my dream of creating a feature film. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

- James Schroeder (writer/director)

Outside the Spotlight says: These days when so many filmmakers are trying to craft these overly convoluted plots and intertwining narratives in some attempt to show off their storytelling prowess and some of them are indeed doing it very well, however it's certainly welcome when something like this comes along that is far more digestible and doesn’t leave you with a headache.

Immediately from the get-go, Nicole has much the same vibes as an old school grindhouse flick or something by Quentin Tarantino. One could only assume that Tarantino was an influence on director James Schroeder, in addition to the other greats of the industry whom he has named as such including Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese. Each of those filmmakers and their various style choices are certainly visible throughout Nicole and the result is a rather simple but very well-crafted cautionary tale.

Nicole starts rather ambiguous regarding its timeline, beginning with a rather distressed Nicole (Tamika Shannon) covered in blood, then to another time as she runs through a cemetery, iPod on arm for a morning jog and stops to visit two adjacent stones which we can only assume are her parents, before flashing back to her childhood and then back to the present again. So already within the first few minutes, we know that Nicole hasn’t always been the reclusive, distant, functioning alcoholic that she has become; generating swift interest into how all of this came to be, and giving a few not-so-subtle hints to where it’ll ultimately end up.

The film is primarily in black and white and aided by the jazzy-bluesy soundtrack by Michael Barnes, Josh Coleman and Raoul Klokow gives Nicole a nostalgic, noir feeling with colour used sporadically to shift the mood at very deliberate points of the affair, seeming to indicate what Nicole’s life could be like, or even what she wishes it were like. Black and white is a favourite among independent and art house dramas and horrors of recent years and the colour palette of course draws similarities to other works that have chosen to do the same such as Roma, The Eyes of My Mother, the recent Malcom & Marie and to a lesser, not so overly-stylised degree, Sin City.

Nicole has a rather mundane daily life as we watch her wake up in the morning, probably feeling not so much like P Diddy and at work, Nicole doesn’t really seem to be friendly with any of her co-workers. When asked by the only one that she does seem to like (Ke'Shawn Bussey) if she is available to watch his band perform on Saturday night, she turns it down and says she has a date. At first, it seems like it could just be an excuse to get out of another potential social get-together however it is in fact true and we are introduced to the man in question, John (Stephen Wesley Green). John is a cop who seems a little suspicious to say the least with a cocky demeanour, a passed-out woman on his bed and a cocaine habit as we also learn of his overbearing mother. At this point, it could be easy to dismiss Nicole as having a feminist “men are bad” type of narrative but it's tasteful, intelligent and certainly not as overbearing as John’s mother.

On that date is where we spend a large chunk of the runtime and it's here that the film starts to become a little slow. The pace seems very deliberate as Schroeder wants us to get to know both of these characters, how they think and how they contrast each other. It is also where we learn of Nicole’s street-smarts. The viewer’s experience here is very intimate as the film peels back the layers of each of the characters’ personalities and builds upon them nicely through conversation.

Things take a turn in ways that I won’t spoil here. Nicole is part drama and part black comedy with some obvious elements of horror and thriller, which is where much of the similarities with other filmmakers of the genre come through. During this section is also where, as well as all of the gore, most of the humour is, which was somewhat unexpected but very welcome.

Nicole leaves a lot of questions upon its credits and ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide what to make of it. Perhaps the savvier of us will find it all a little clearer but I know that it left me wanting some more concrete answers but hey, it's also fun to ponder.

Nicole won the Silver Award at Virgin Spring Cinefest and Best Indie Feature at Underground Indie Film Festival.

- About the director -

James Schroeder has been working in the entertainment business for over 17 years. He has worked with major brands such as The Home Depot, The Coca-Cola Company, Ford, Wal-Mart, Cox, and the PGA Tour Superstore. James got his start at Turner Studios in the Editorial Department but has expanded his skills to directing, writing, shooting, sound recording and motion graphics. James is adept at all forms of storytelling from thirty second spots, to documentaries, and long form narratives. He graduated Georgia State University with a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video Production. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, daughter, and their two dogs.

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