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MORGAN'S CAKE

USA, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Rick Schmidt

Made on a shoestring — and a very small shoestring at that, the . $15,000 budget recommended by Rick Schmidt in his book 'Feature Film making at Used Car Prices' — Morgan's Cake is a deadpan, unpretentious delight. The title character, ptayed by the filmmaker's son, Morgan, is no less comically out of sync with the world around him than the gorilla-suited David Wamer character in the 1966 movie for which Morgan was named. Morgan's Cake adopts his point of view and reflects his bewilderment in sly, fresh, unexpectedly comic ways.

The film observes this younger Morgan as he grapples with the problems of being 18 in America and, more specifically, California.

His parents are divorced, both struggling artists, each so wholly self-absorbed that neither has much time for Morgan's problems. His father does rake the trouble to deliver a long lesson on how to fail an Army physical, since his draft status at 18 is one of Morgan's main worries.

Morgan's girtfriend, Rachel, is just as diffident, hovering outside the frame of the film as Morgan explains what he likes about her. One of the film's best extended scenes has Morgan explaining to Rachel's parents that their daughter may be pregnant. It's consistent to the film that no one reacts too dramatically to this news, although Rachel's parents do insist that the backyard fountain be turned off so they can absorb the news and tell Morgan he needs more of an education.

How does Schmidt work so cheaply? Morgan's Cake is shot in black and white and made up of very long scenes, most of which have the unpredictability of first takes. A lot of the cast apparently consist of relatives and friends, and the film uses real houses and beaches and backyards for its sets. The result is a fine, quirky spontaneity that perfectly suits Morgan's mild bewilderment with the people and places he encounters.

The film takes its title from Morgan's highly original scheme for outwitting his draft board, proving that you can have your cake and eat it too. - Janet Maslin, New York Times

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