“The question you gotta answer is…you wanna fight for it or not?”
This is posited within the first five minutes of Seth Green’s Changeland, and it’s one being asked both externally and internally throughout the film. A trip to Thailand meant to surprise his wife, Brandon (Green) instead stumbles across some unsettling news that turns what was supposed to be a romantic vacation into one of personal discoveries and rekindled friendship.
Director: Seth Green
Release Date: June 7, 2019
In his directorial debut, Green goes subtle. There’s elements of drama and comedy, but it’s not extranuous by any means. Sharing the screen with longtime friend Breckin Meyer, the two play off each other with a sense of genuineness at prima facie. Dan (Meyer) the traveling photographer and adventurer drops everything to go with his friend to Thailand. Throughout the movie, Dan shows no fear. Whether it’s jumping off a cliff during a boat tour or hitting on said boat tour’s instructor, Dan goes for it.
Brandon, on the contrary, is staid. When asked if he’s going to fight for his marriage, he deflects, saying “That’s really over-simplifying it.” Dan argues against his over-analytical friend by firing back, “Everything is on either side of that question. You wanna fight or not? You answer that, everything follows.”
Brandon’s uneasiness is evident throughout the film, and he’s surrounded by people and events that metaphorically represent his current state in life and the fork in the road he’s come to. After watching Dan jump from the side of a cliff, Brandon climbs up, only to back down. The relation may be a little too on-the-nose, but works nonetheless. After a string of events leads him to his final revelation, he’s offered an extremely rare drink. Brandon looks at the tiny cup with the valuable liquid and asks “why me?” only to have his serve returned with “why not you?”
At a bar with their binge-drinking tour guide from South Dakota, Ian (a wonderful MaCaulay Culkin, who may have actually been drunk during filming), Brandon meets the mysterious Martin (WWE superstar Randy Orton). Martin tells Brandon repeatedly that “tonight is going to be the best night of our lives” and something about it makes him—and viewers—believe that. So full of belief in fact, that Brandon finally decides if he wants to fight or not.
Appearing on Chris Hardwick’s ID10T podcast earlier this year, Green talked about the film and its inspiration. In 2009, he and a friend went to Thailand, and while the narrative of the story was built for the script, some of the events that happened along the way are true stories. The entirety of the film was shot in Thailand, and the country itself lent a major hand in Green creating this film:
“When I was there on that trip, everything that happened to us felt cinematic. And I just started making notes, because I thought ‘oh this is a really funny story to tell. This is a very beautiful backdrop for some kind of emotional development.’ And I didn’t have any of the story that’s in the movie, I simply had a series of set pieces that I knew would be incredible to photograph. I thought if I could make a compelling narrative around all of this visual this would be a kind of cinematic vacation for the audience and be a way that people get to explore something that I was lucky enough to see first-person, but with an emotional through line that would keep them engaged.”
While engulfed in his own problem, Brandon and Dan reconnect on their friendship. Dan calls Brandon out for some wrongs in the past, but quickly moves past them because it helps Brandon move on. When Dan first hears the news that caused Brandon to simply up and leave, he wants to know whose house he should burn down. He jokes about murder for revenge, but that he won’t do it for free. His character type in movies tends to come across more douche-like, but that’s not the case with Changeland.
The film doesn’t try to pull any punches (although there is a boxing scene) and in that regard never has a truly jaw-dropping moment. Like the scenery around it, the story feels calm throughout. Even when the two friends are arguing, voices barely reach a decibel one would consider yelling. Brandon’s breakthrough moment is as literal as it is physical, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. The only true surprise jumps out in the soundtrack (curated by Patrick Stump) when MGMT’s psychedelic riff for “Time to Pretend” blasts out from seemingly nowhere. It’s really only cringeworthy if you’re as sick of that song as most people.
For someone who’s been in film as long as Green has, it’s a wonder why he hasn’t directed a film until now. In the aforementioned podcast, he talks about using his longtime experience in film and his creative endeavor with Robot Chicken to become the best director he felt he could be:
“The thing that I’ve learned the most, even as an actor, is the director is someone with a point of view, who is decisive, but flexible. So that’s what I tried to do…I want the best idea, even if it’s not my idea. I know how to tell the story, because I know what it is that I’m trying to tell. But I’m open to the idea that there are other ways to do it that maybe I haven’t thought of.”
This mindset bleeds through onto the screen.
He has no delusions about the reach of this film, purposefully making it more simplistic and personal throughout, rathar than add unnecessary flair. There’s no big twist or second act falling out. The story, while not the most compelling, feels real enough that you want to see it through to the end, which is good because it doesn’t feel drawn out in its 86 minute runtime.
Changeland is easy to watch, and like his real-life trip to Thailand, Green’s secondary characters and events drive the narrative as much as the narrative itself. New friendships formed and old ones strengthened were not high on Brandon’s list of expectations after his shock set in, but they happened anyway. It’s the beauty of the unexpected mixed with a true friend to give the push he needed. It’s a reminder of something we need in life every now and again.