Ruta Awakening: Steve Bilich’s Austin-Based Serio-Comedy

South By Southwest Film Festival, Austin, March 8, 1996–Inspired by Slacker, though not as funny or charming, Steve Bilich’s Austin-based Ruta Awakening is a New Age serio-comedy about a group of twentysomething in search of meaningful relationships. Commercial prospects for this underproduced feature debut are meager, though pic should travel the regional festival, serving as sampler of ultra low-budget indies.

If Bilich’s technical skills matched his generosity of spirit and the likability quotient of his characters, Ruta Awakening would have been a decent movie. But, narratively and visually, pic is so shapeless that what comes across is a filmmaker who can write, but is severely lacking in the directorial and technical departments.

Shot in downtown Austin, in and around the Cuban Ruta Maya coffee/tobacco shop, a dozen of confused and/or bruised characters wander around, voicing their angst. Central figure is Ebb (John Ellison), an illustrator of children’s books, whose g.f. Vita has jilted him. Deeply hurt, he begins a phone relationship with Dr. Feelgood (Denia Ridley), a local radio talk show host, and discovers, while on the air, that his best friend Jude (Tom Hester) had betrayed him.

In a careful attempt to draw a cross-section portrait, pic includes a “modern” triangle. Gavin (Joey Walden), an indie director, becomes so preoccupied with his work that he neglects g.f. Angie (Naomi Riley) who, in turn, throws herself into an affair with best friend Dee (Nancy Reed), a lesbian. There’s also a happy gay couple, Bobby and Rick (Martin Burke and Lane Orsak), who suddenly must face the cruel reality of Bobby’s full-blown AIDS.

Eccessively long tale meanders around from one relationship to another, with “Icemen” Jester and Jake (Johnny Hardwick and Scott Calonico), who’re always driving, and a philosophically irreverent homeless woman (Mary Lang), providing the unsuccessful glue for the large number of disparate subplots. There are some whimsical, well-written episodes, but ultimately Ruta Awakening is a comedy of few good and many more tedious moments. Tech credits of what appears to be a shoestring budgeter are on the raw side.