In the shadow of the gigantic budgets available to the great Hollywood directors and producers, are the idealistic hobbyists who have to make do with their own savings. Whether a large bag of money will also result in a better film in advance is of course still the question. You can go a long way with a good story and strong acting. The problem is that small-scale films are hardly seen by anyone due to the lack of a good marketing campaign. Sometimes some gems are lost to the general public. Take “Wellness”, a tragicomic docudrama from 2008. The film was not only directed by Jake Mahaffy, but also produced, edited, written and recorded. He has his father Paul appear in one of the most important roles. Everything is done in-house. No wonder the film looks a bit amateurish. However, if you look beyond the choppy images, the not always well-thought-out lighting and the unbalanced sound, you will see a small gem in this film. This is largely due to lead actor Jeff Clark, who has some experience on the (amateur) stage but never trained as an actor.
Clark plays Thomas Lindsey, a somewhat stupid salesman who is in a bind at a company that doesn’t exist at all. Thomas could be your neighbor; he is a coarsely built, middle-aged man with a badly fitting suit who, however, never loses good cheer. Anyone else would have walked around long and broad with his soul under his arm, but Thomas wants to make something of it. He has invested $ 20,000 in a dubious weight-loss drug, in order to later earn a multiple of it. His boss, the Wellness Corporation, sends him to a bleak rural area in Pennsylvania to market the product and find investors. There he drives around in dilapidated rental cars, sleeps in impersonal motels and scrapes his last money to organize an impending seminar. His regional manager (Paul Mahaffy) visits him to give him sales training, which means that Thomas allows himself to be barked off and has lost even more of his own money. He prefers to go home to his wife, but dutiful as he is, he continues his round. The sad existence of a naive sales representative, who himself has no idea what he is actually selling but is nevertheless firmly behind it, does not get any rosier if he still has no samples in the day before the seminar and the Wellness Corporation suddenly not at home gives.
A film like “Wellness” stands or falls with the central performance. Jeff Clark does a brilliant job as the diligent good guy, who’s so gullible you just have to pity him. As a viewer you would want to scream at him, save him from the clutches of that seedy Wellness firm. Because this man does not deserve this. It is great that Clark, who can be seen in every scene, is able to portray this vulnerable wimp in such a credible way, without it becoming a caricature. During the filming, which was completed in just seven days, director Mahaffy played a game with his protagonist. Everyone who played a role in the film (most of them are residents of the town of Warren, Pennsylvania) were instructed separately. Jeff Clark had no idea how the story was going to continue and so empathized with his role that he wanted to sell something at all costs. However, the director incited the others by forbidding them to buy anything from Clark. It makes the frustration of Clark’s character Lindsey just a little more bitter. He also knows how to evoke genuine emotions in his viewers, when the going gets tough. When he has lost his envelope with $ 500, goes looking for it and sniffing in a restaurant realizes that he has lost the money, for example, he knows how to genuinely move.
“Wellness” does not excel technically. The handheld camera work looks messy, the focus is not always sharp and light and sound leave something to be desired more than once. The fact that this film does not miss its mark has everything to do with Jeff Clark, who delivers a fantastic piece of craftsmanship. The recognisability of the situation also helps the film on the rise. Everyone knows after a few minutes that the Wellness Corporation cannot be trusted, except Lindsey. His naivety puts him in painful, sometimes excruciating situations, but he always keeps courage. Although his worries also have something comical about it, it is the tragedy that cuts through your soul. Jeff Mahaffy made a big hit with “Wellness”. And that with a few rockets! It makes you think what he could get off the ground with a serious budget …