Film Review: Clear Blue Tuesday

Theatre-inspired and cast-workshopped musical about several New Yorkers' lives in the wake of 9/11 is well-intentioned but off-off-off-off-Broadway.

Made with heart and creative passion, this indie movie musical—crafted collaboratively by theatre people and a couple of rock/pop singers, workshop-style—strives to make artful statements about New Yorkers' ability to heal and move on after the World Trade Center terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001. But Clear Blue Tuesday doesn't quite play onscreen. When such mass-market screen musicals as the TV series "Glee" and the High School Musical franchise show inventive, precision choreography, knowledgeable staging and an unexpected degree of wit—a high standard of technical craftsmanship, in other words—this much lower-budgeted and necessarily rougher-edged effort needs to dazzle us with ideas. And as much as one wishes that were so, there's little here that doesn't feel like generic emotion—like the actors, singers and others were working from "This is how I think I should feel about it."

And that's understandable: The events of 9/11 were almost unreal in their scope, their world-changing suddenness, their sheer Michael Bay, over-the-top craziness. How do human beings wrap their minds around something so unbelievable yet with so many punishing personal ripples? Even a Pulitzer Prize-winner like Art Spiegelman—whose Maus graphic novels made the equally surreal horror of the Holocaust comprehensible and personal and down-to-earth in a way rarely if ever achieved—could only fumble for words and feelings in his underwhelming In the Shadow of No Towers.

Most of the movie's cast/creators seem old enough to have been aware of 9/11 as adults, although from the press notes it appears only elder actress Jan O'Dell lived through it personally, injured by debris and suffering a long recovery. Yet their thoughts about it, expressed in song and an ensemble narrative of Crash-like interweaving lives, feel secondhand and inauthentic. Or maybe authentic and they just couldn't find the words.

In six segments taking place on the nearest anniversary Tuesday from 2002 to 2007, 11 primary characters deal with their personal aftermaths to the catastrophe. When we meet them after a marvelously subtle and poignant opening sequence, Daniel (Jeremy Schonfeld) has lost his girlfriend to the tragedy and has since married Reena (Julie Danao-Salkin), with whom he's expecting a child. Would-be actress Sam (Cassandra Kubinski) has just moved to New York and is renting a room from "Star Trek"-obsessed harp player Etta (Erin Hill). Kyle (Asa Somers), who has some unspecified corporate job, fires the divorced and distracted Jack (Greg Naughton) from his equally non-specific job, and then essentially fires his depressed and possibly agoraphobic artist girlfriend Rose (Becca Ayers) from their relationship. Jack's mother, Caroline (O'Dell), once Reena's corporate mentor, is bitterly recovering from 9/11 injuries. Hindi office worker Jain (Vedant Gokhale) quits his job. And rocker Syd (a fun Brother Love) rocks on.

Mostly undistinguished AOR songs punctuate their year-by-year journeys in and out of relationships and work. Pop-singer Kubinski does a Britney Spears-like song about letting go and being slutty for a night. Syd does a hair-band metal number. The best of the bunch is one of the last songs, "The Ritual," a solid Broadway power ballad. But like many of the narratives themselves, the songs often have only tangential relationships to recovery and resilience—they're standard heartbreak/yearning numbers. Visual effects, lighting, cinematography and direction are all, sadly, below par.

There's also an odd and probably unintentional thread running through the film, in which hard-working corporate drones lose their jobs and descend to homelessness and alcoholism while creative man-boy slackers live well and go off to Hollywood. The nerdy Trekker girl finds her pointy-eared soul mate and the nerdy Indian guy gets the gorgeous blonde. So nerds and slackers are the toughest and most resilient survivors? That's just one of the muddled messages in this well-meaning misfire.