17th Aug2018

‘Bennett’s Song’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Tara Reid, Harley Wallen, Calhoun Koenig, Aphrodite Nikolovski, Dennis Haskins, Victoria Mullen | Written by Nancy Oeswein | Directed by Harley Wallen

BENNETT'S-SONG-POSTER

Starring and directed by Harley Wallen, and written by Nancy Oeswein, Bennett’s Song follows two very modern families and a young girl with big music dreams. Starring Tara Reid (American Pie, Sharknado), Harley Wallen (Into A Dark Mind, Betrayed), Aphrodite Nikolovski (Cut/Print, Answer This!), Dennis Haskins (Saved By The Bell, A Million Ways To Die In The West), Calhoun Koenig (Moving Parts, Agramon’s Gate), and Victoria Mullen (Model No. Human, Whiskey Tango), the film is a very timely celebration of diversity, love and acceptance.

Bennett’s Song tells the story of a widower, Sam Bennett (Harley Wallen) and divorcee, Susan Song (Aphrodite Nikolovski) finding love against all odds. Their unconventional romance, which sees  two very unique and diverse families with seven kids each collide with their not-so-pleasant next door neighbor (Tara Reid), who throws a wrench in the big music plans of the very independent Pearl (Calhoun Koenig), in this story of a a not-so-normal American family in the 21st century.

I’ll be honest, having never seen one of actor/director Harley Wallen’s films before I did not know what to expect from Bennett’s Song. Knowing that Wallen works, like a lot of the low-budget films and filmmakers we cover, independently of the Hollywood “system,” I didn’t have any high expectations, especially given that this is a family movie – a genre I don’t tend to cover given my love of more genre-related fare. And even more so because of the vitriolic comments regaring Wallen’s movies I’ve had to deleted from other mentions of his work on this very website.

I was also wary of Bennett’s Song due to the fact it’s being billed very much as an “issues” film, focusing on social problem, societal ills and the modern family. However whilst it IS all those things, none of the issues are forced down the audiences throat – instead the story organically and subtley touches upon them, often using humour to lighten the darker moments and relying on the younger members of the cat to deliver heartfelt dialogue, tugging on the audiences emotions in more ways than one. All of which combine to , for wont of a better word, mask the issue-led protions of the film and stop Bennett’s Song from ever coming across as preachy or heavy-handed.

Speaking of the cast, Dennis Haskins, formerly Mr. Belding in Saved By the Bell, plays Wallen’s father – a cross between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Mr. Rogers, who doesn’t get to do much in the film for the most part popping up her and there in a somewhat comedic role. Yet when he’s given a key scene with Calhoun Koenig, discussing events that have happened and boosting her confidence, Haskins absolutely knocks it out of the park. It’s astonishing how he delivers what are, in all truth, some incredibly cheesy “inspirational” words, with such honesty, such gravitas and such power. I’m not going to lie, seeing this made me realise just how good an actor Dennis Haskins triuly is, and how it’s such a shame he was forever typecast as just “Mr. Belding”.

The biggest surprise however is the cast of kids. These are not your typical , they act, look and feel like real kids, with real issues and real lives. Of the young cast it’s Calhoun Koenig who’s the real star. Featuring as the feisty and VERY independent Pearl, Koenig gets her own storyline in the film, as something of an aside to the main plot of the blended family – and whilst the title of the film Bennett’s Song is a play on the name of the two families that come together, it’s also a focus in the latter half of the movie, as the combined family comes together – overcoming the tensions of such large families with their own social structures – to perform in a local talent show, telling the story, in song, of their family… Which sounds cheesy I know, but thanks to the kids perfomances it actually really works.

A little cheesy, a bit “Hallmark movie of the week,” but still a fantastic, uplifting and more importantly a true FAMILY film, Bennett’s Song is one of those films that many, myself included, will write off as yet another low-budget independent rom-com. But it’s much more than that, it’s a throwback to the kinds of films Disney used to make for TV in the 80s; films that brought families together in front of the screen to both entertain, educate and inform without pandering to either.

A film which honestly took me by surprise, Bennett’s Song is available on DVD and Digital in the US now.

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