“As far as what bonds us together? Beats me,” says Ally (Danielle Kay), the evening before her friends are about to go their separate ways in “Dramarama,” with freshman year of college awaiting them in different cities. “Maybe fart jokes.”
Of course, Ally’s never had to think of even answering this question before when she’s been inseparable from drama club pals Rose (Anna Grace Barlow), Oscar (Nico Greetham), Claire (Megan Suri) and Gene (Nick Puglisi) for so long that no one can remember otherwise, but in Jonathan Wysocki’s wonderfully winsome dramedy, there’s a need to take stock when the musical mystery theme of their sleepover party inevitably breaks down, looking as if it’s a last vestige of their adolescence. The kids have no adult supervision – they don’t need it when they don’t have a taste for anything more than Martinelli’s sparkling cider and wild times involve surreptitiously breaking into show tunes, but what the writer/director gets eerily accurate is the way in which an ability to treat everything as if it’s one step away from play acting becomes a denial of reality, making the prospect of the morning after when everyone will go their separate ways loom large over an evening when everyone still feels they have control over the stage.
It’s immediately apparent that “Dramarama” nailed the casting of this ensemble, both in how quickly you buy them as friends since elementary school and that they all believe they’re slightly wiser than their age would suggest, which allows for Wysocki to quietly slip in an early bombshell in the form of JD (Zak Henry), who arrives to the party with a pizza and seems to have it made after leaving school a year ahead of them. Never mind he’s actually delivering that pizza for work and the awesome ability to drive his own car around town is evidence that he felt he had no options to leave, but the teens don’t have the perspective yet to see that and as he taunts them for not being as mature as he is during his short visit, breaking into Rose’s parents liquor cabinet, the need to prove they’re ready to be adults after he leaves becomes the defining element of a night when they should be enjoying what freedom they have being unburdened by adult responsibilities.
Set specifically in 1994, the pop culture references are precise from They Might Be Giants playing in the background to reenactments of early seasons of “The Real World,” but perhaps more so is the observation that besides this and the geography that’s brought them together, they have started the process of developing their identities away from each other, whether it’s Claire’s increasing commitment to Christianity or Gene’s growing consciousness that he’s gay, and suddenly the lifelong knowledge they have of each other seems to only be deployed through the evening to highlight their differences. Naturally, with a set already inclined towards the dramatic, these barbs are often pretty funny, which along with the sharp editing by Christine Kim and slippery framing by cinematographer Todd Bell, give a real energy to the film, even when it never leaves its single location. Then again, that certainly underscores the notion that as confining as those high school years can seem, it can also be the most special time in your life and “Dramarama” beautifully captures how those feelings can live side by side.