Raise your hand if you’ve ever been invited out for a seemingly casual night of bar trivia, only to look around you and realize everyone else in the room is, well… nuts. These are the people who have committed to memory the periodic table, the line of succession within various 15th century European monarchies and, most frighteningly, the lyrics to every Spice Girls song. They are the ones whose superior snorting rings in your ears as you slink out of the bar without even placing.
Such characters and their disturbing milieu get some long overdue comic and dramatic treatment in “Trivia Night,” a shoestring-budget independent film that made its public debut at the Green Bay Film Festival on March 5. Movies like this are why I love independent cinema. It was produced, written, directed and performed largely by people donating their time and funded through a Kickstarter campaign. How do I know? Two of them were at the screening as they accompany the film through the festival circuit in hopes of earning publicity and, presumably, a distribution deal. How often do you get the chance to watch a movie, then afterwards talk to the people who made it? It took me a minute to realize that one of them, the movie’s primary screenwriter, also played the lead character.
Indie cinema, at least in the Midwest, tends to be regarded by mainstream audiences as something between electric cars and tofu. A number of preconceptions apply, typically involving a snobbish elitist who turns his nose up at the whiz-bang blockbuster or predictable rom-com in favor of something dark and serious, socially conscious, shot in black and white with a handheld camera, and preferably with subtitles. I admit that I have a reflexive aversion to the multiplex, but I also have no affinity for the cinematic equivalent of self-flagellation.
Both lighthearted and insightful, “Trivia Night” delivers a Hollywood-quality production without the tiresome Hollywood formulas. The guy doesn’t get the girl because, would you believe it, the guy isn’t that interested in the girl. Or it’s not really about a guy and a girl. And the ending doesn’t see the guy vanquishing past trivia demons with a glorious victory, nor does he lose his final challenge, instead achieving a sort of stalemate. Let’s see Hollywood screenwriters wrap their heads around that. They’re more concerned with delivering a satisfying conclusion while plucking emotional heartstrings with a lesson learned and maybe some character growth.
Despite its somewhat outlandish premise, “Trivia Night” comes across as genuine, its characters like many people I know. That’s because the producers haven’t (yet) been forced into the Hollywood trap, and the result is a film that, for all the baggage surrounding the “indie” label, is fun to watch.