The indie delight Chu and Blossom was a stealth production in 2012, slipping in and out of Tampa Bay communities "like a ninja," according to its co-writer and star Ryan O'Nan.
Sunday night, Chu and Blossom returned with fanfare, charming the closing night crowd at the eighth annual Gasparilla International Film Festival. It was the Florida premiere of this warmly weird coming-of-age comedy, that doesn't yet have the distribution deal much worse films have gotten. Exposure at next month's Sarasota and Florida film festivals should help.
Chu and Blossom is the story of Joonsup Chu, a South Korean exchange student well played by co-writer and co-director Charles Chu. He's an outsider from the outset, an engineering prodigy shyly speaking broken English and so tall that he's called Godzilla. Chu meets Butch Blossom, a head case played by O'Nan with a Sam Rockwell vibe. Their friendship is forged, tested and joined by Chu's pink-haired photography classmate Cherry Swade (a winning Caitlin Stasey).
The movie includes supporting roles for Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King) as Chu's blindly racist host, Alan Cumming and Annie Potts as Butch's uncle and aunt — each gay, in the script's screwy logic — plus familiar faces Melanie Lynskey and Richard Kind. A minor complaint is that some of their scenes could be tighter or excised for pacing's sake. But when famed names get attached to a low-budget indie, you use them.
Bringing Chu and Blossom to Gasparilla was a no-brainer since program director Joe Restaino is a producer on the project. O'Nan's directing debut Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best earned Gasparilla's top honor and his rising star award in 2011. He had a screenplay written years ago with his best friend Chu, liked the "local positivity" he found around Tampa Bay, and decided to use Florida locations, extending as far as Plant City, Lakeland, Marion Co. and Ocala.
The movie isn't packed with widely recognizable landmarks; mostly town plazas, woodsy exteriors and nondescript interiors. Restaino said the production even avoided showing palm trees when possible, to create an anywhere look.
The result is a movie deserving to be shown everywhere. Chu and Blossom is a cheery addition to Tampa Bay's cinema history.
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Before Sunday's screening of Chu and Blossom the Gasparilla festival honored these films and artists, selected by jury and audience popularity:
Grand jury awards
Narrative feature: Mark Raso's Copenhagen; Acting: Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Copenhagen; Directing: Michael Wechsler, The Red Robin; Screenwriting: S.J. Thompson, A Long Way from Paris; Documentary: The Longest Game by Camille Thoman; World showcase: Melaza by Carlos Lechuga; New visions: Sand Castles by Clenet Verdi-Rose; Short film: Gianluca Sodaro's God's Got His Head in the Clouds; College showcase: The Bright Side by Sarah Wilson Thacker.
Narrative feature: The Boys of Abu Ghraib by Luke Moran; Documentary: Ride with Larry, directed by Ricardo Villerreal and Andrew Rubin; Short film: Sam Albis' Chub; High school showcase: Pendemonium by Wesley Hayes; College showcase: Justin Liberman's Tobacco Burn; Florida production: ... And a Bag of Chips by Saban Mayfield.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.