The Heartland Film Festival hosted a sold out screening of "Waffle Street" on Oct. 24. Read thoughts on the film below.
Wall Street financing, chicken and waffles, and honorable work.
These are just a few of the seemingly discordant concepts explored in “Waffle Street,” a film based on the life events of James Adams, the former V.P. of a $30 billion hedge fund. The story first appeared in his autobiography “Waffle Street: The Confession and Rehabilitation of a Financier,” before being adapted to a film by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms.
The film opens with a black screen and a voice muttering a phrase over and over as the audio slowly rises to an audible level.
“What we do is legal, therefore it is not unethical; if it were unethical, it would be illegal."
Jim, played by “One Tree Hill” heartthrob James Lafferty, is troubled. All his life he has excelled at finance management; but now, when asked to secure a shady business deal, his conscience kicks into gear. To top it all off, after going through with the questionable exchange out of loyalty to the company, Jim gets laid off by the very people who asked him to seal the deal.
And so, Jim’s existential search for greater meaning and purpose in his work begins. Unsurprisingly, his journey leads him to Papa’s Chicken and Waffles, where he takes up a serving job in search of plain, honest work.
“It’s a fresh start; a chance to clear my head, work with my hands," says Jim.
The rest of the film follows Jim’s path as he learns the life of a server, the quirks of the restaurant industry, and his own ambitions for the future. Lafferty plays the part of level-headed financier with ease; so much so in fact, that Jim’s character can at times feel lifeless and forced.
But, that’s nothing that a little Danny Glover performance as the wise, old grill master can’t fix. Glover plays the part of Edward, an ex-con who teaches Jim (or as he says, ‘Jimbo,’ ‘Jimmy,’ and a host of other nicknames) how to grill, be a server, and handle life’s curve balls. Glover’s character is predictably lovable, but that doesn’t take away from his character or performance. After working with such an experienced actor, the Nelms brothers felt grateful for such an opportunity.
“Danny was amazing. In the bench scene, he basically had a four page monologue. And he did it seamlessly,” said Ian Nelms.
For a low budget film, the Nelms brothers managed to attract some respectable talent. Julie Gonzalo (“A Cinderella Story,” “Dodgeball”) plays the part of Jim’s wife with a remarkable amount of poise and confidence. In many ways, she brings a depth to Jim’s character that would otherwise go unnoticed. With such a dynamic performance, it was surprising that her character didn’t receive more screen time, particularly in the form of longer monologues.
“Waffle Street” gives audiences plenty of tender moments, with splashes of humor throughout. As co-director, Eshom Nelms tried to highlight the authenticity of the movie by using real events from the diner.
“We stayed uncannily close to the novel. I think it’s 90 percent the same, even down to the guy putting chocolate syrup on his [bare] chest,” said Eshom Nelms.
One of the most subtle yet impressive feats from the film is the cinematography. According to the directors, over half of the shots in the movie were taken in the same diner.
The Nelms brothers explained that in order to avoid redundancy, crew members were often crammed into every nook and corner trying to find a new camera angle. When paired with the notable performances from extras and smaller roles, “Waffle Street” feels like a well-rounded effort.
When asked how the pieces fell into place for the film, Eshom Nelms had the film gods to thank.
It feels like the world is conspiring with you -- and those are some of the magical moments when you are making movies, where the hair on your arm stands up.”
After three previous festivals, the Heartland Film Festival welcomed “Waffle Street” as an official selection for narrative features. Heartland leaves a few screening times open at the end of the week for films that gain popularity. This year, “Waffle Street” struck a chord with Indianapolis movie-goers, and was given an extra slot for screening. The result? A sold out theater.
For their next screening, “Waffle Street” is headed to the Ojai Film Festival in Ojai, California. The Nelms brothers have hopes of taking the film national and getting wider distribution in 2016. Though the process is difficult, Ian Nelms hopes that they may be on the right course.