J.J. Lask's first feature film sounds like Charlie Kaufman from another universe. Lask adapted his own book, 'On The Road With Judas' into a feature film, but he changes the story in major ways, and makes the movie -- about the making of the book -- into a movie, almost like Adaptation. Still with me? Okay, in this movie an actor (Aaron Ruell, better known as Kip in Napoleon Dynamite) portrays the "real" Judas, and another actor (Eddie Kaye Thomas) plays the actor playing Judas in the movie. This is the same for all of the characters in the film, and to confuse things even more, the whole story is told in a talk-show format, with Lask himself playing the host of the show and interviewing everyone involved in On The Road With Judas. Of course, he doesn't play himself in the film, so the part of J.J. Lask is played by Kevin Corrigan.
Okay, if you can make it past all of those hurdles, then eventually you find yourself in the middle of a wonderfully written and directed film, that has some stand-out performances from everyone involved in the project, particularly Aaron Ruell. He manages to look so forlorn and human at times that you forget he's an actor portraying a role. I never would have expected him to be such a sympathetic character, especially given the fact that he makes his living as a thief.
The film jumps back and forth during the timeline and throughout the story, and you aren't sure which set of characters you are going to end up with at times. Eddie Kaye Thomas' Judas is a bit more headstrong and dynamic then Ruell's melancholy introvert, but the stories all tie together, and you find yourself rooting for Ruell's Judas in the end. Likewise, you get two different versions of Serra, the woman that Judas falls for in the film. Amanda Loncar plays a more brash and buxom version of Serra, while Eleanor Hutchins' version is more earthy and vulnerable.
Rounding out the group is Judas' partner-in-crime expertly played by Alex Burns (sadly, not much time is spent with his "real" alter-ego in the film) who seems like he has stepped out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. He spends the whole film (apart from one of two flashback scenes) in prison, where he has slicked back hair, wears cardigan sweaters and hobnobs with the guards. The Bret Easton Ellis connection might not be too far-fetched, because in the opening bookstore scene a guy in the stacks behind Kevin Corrigan is thumbing through a copy of 'American Pyscho.'
If anything, seeing the film has encouraged me to read the book, which Lask told me is nothing at all like the film. Lask just needs to adapt the book into a wacky Showtime series, and he'll have hit just about every medium, except comic books. Although I wouldn't put it past him to slip in an On The Road With Judas comic book somewhere along the time line. Out of all of the films I saw at Sundance this one definitely stood out more than most, and I hope it can reach audiences in some way, shape or form.