Sometimes its easier to point out what a film does well. Echo Park does have some virtues. The visual aesthetic--the neutral tones and soft light that soaks everything gives a welcome continuity to all the sequences. Mamie Gummer in the lead role manages a fairly good performance. She’s at war with a remarkably thin script and manages to win a few battles.
Most of the blame for Echo Park should fall on director, Amanda Marsalis. Instead of building toward a human connection between Gummer and fellow lead Anthony Okungbowa she relies too heavily on montage sequences to flesh out their romance. Whether this was through laziness or because she realized that the leads shared no spark after filming started, it’s a fatal decision. The montages don’t let up as the film progresses. By the end the imagery becomes increasingly non-sequitur focusing more on the local landmarks of Echo Park than any of the characters. It’s as if the local tourism board funded this whole film with an eye toward bolstering the real estate market.
When I watched Echo Park, I heard the voices of my high school Creative Writing teachers: “Show Don’t Tell!”. Echo Park opens with Gummer’s Sophie bailing on a boyfriend and falling in with Okungbowa’s Alex, but it never attempts to show us why the first relationship was bad and why the second is perhaps truer.
The social milleu doesn’t help matters. Echo Park is posited as a “real” town full of “real” people unlike the snobbish circle Sophie escaped from. In doing so it casts itself as a clash of cultures between the people who live in three million dollar houses against those who can only afford a measly million dollar mortgage. Of course the lifestyles of the elite have always been fodder for popular stories, but all the successful ones understand exactly how this strata fits into the rest of society and invites the voyeurism of the rest of us schlebs. Echo Park is totally unaware and thus seems to think its dealing in universal themes.
Contrasting with the social strata of its characters is the obvious thread-bare nature of the plot. Only six actors handle the lionshare of the dialog. Most of the budget was probably spent on a vehicle shot early in the feature.