Movie Review: This World Won’t Break

This World Won’t Break
Directed by Josh David Jordan
Whiskey Beard Films

Artists are a funny breed. It takes a strange combination of guts, naiveté, stubbornness, and, often times, pure dumb luck to create something that stands the test of time. Being an artist can be a reckless endeavor. For every artist that earns their place in our collective culture, there are thousands that spend the balance of their lives never quite making it. Josh David Jordan’s feature directorial debut, This World Won’t Break, places a microscope on the life of fictional Texas musician, Wes Milligan, and examines the cost of a life dedicated to one’s own art.

Jordan introduces Wes at a low point; a vagrant songwriter who leans on a flask too frequently and is embittered by the indifference of local barflies who aren’t there specifically to hear him play. His wife has left him, he can’t pay his bills, he lives in a trailer, and he keeps getting rejected at the one thing he thinks he’s good at. Does this sound like a blues song yet?

The common, “My baby done left me,” blues tropes are all in play but after hearing them all is where the film gets really interesting. Taken on the surface from Wes’ point-of-view, life is but a wearisome and necessary burden for the sake of his craft. However, Jordan begins dropping in hints that Wes has far more support at the ready if he ever were to acknowledge it. His ex-wife still returns his drunken calls and reminds him that he’s talented but it was his own self-sabotage that forced her to leave. He has a pure-hearted simpleton friend who is willing to sit and listen to him at any hour of the day. He has a gem of a father who believes in him and encourages him to take his writing gift to Nashville and then gives him a place to live. Even the radio DJ takes the time to administer sage advice and about getting a band together and putting out a professional quality recording so that he isn’t just spinning his wheels. And through all of this, he still wears being alone as some twisted badge of honour.

In a touching scene, the humility of Wes’ father, played brilliantly by Matthew Posey, when talking about life after the loss of a spouse acts as the emotional counterweight to Wes’ self-centered nature. Being purposefully alone might help him manufacture a few decent songs but for the first time he recognizes the profound impact that the love from others has on one’s life. That recognition is the beginning of a powerful turning point for Wes learning to accept the help from others that is readily available.

One thing that sets This World Won’t Break apart from many of its peers in the indie-character study category, is its inherent humour. Greg Schroeder, who plays Wes Milligan, has a naturally mischievous twinkle in his eye that lets him deliver even the most dour of lines with some hope that maybe he’s kind of joking. Jordan also writes incredible supporting roles that interject the absurd hilarity and awkwardness of the common man just when levity is needed the most.

As far as the technical aspects of the the film are concerned, This World Won’t Break is nothing short of stunning. Everything from the vivid colouring to those gorgeous, lingering Terrence Malick-esque shots, make it hard to believe this is Josh Jordan’s first feature-length film. Music films can always be a little dicey when it comes to believability of the performance or syncing a studio track up to a supposed live scene but the musical background of the TWWB crew creates a flawless experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this entire film was assembled for under $50k, which is less than big brands spend on creating 15-second YouTube ads. Much like Wes, Jordan has a community of support behind him and by leveraging a team of local talent, family and friends, they achieved something truly remarkable. This movie shouldn’t even exist but here it stands as maybe the quintessential movie about songwriters. Also, the local production crew and their shared experiences help make the city of Dallas as much of a character as any other character in the movie. I feel comfortable in saying This World Won’t Break has overthrown David Byrne’s True Stories as the definitive, “Dallas Music Movie.”

The only noticeable flaw in the movie is its runtime. In every slightly bloated double-album is a more succinct perfect single album but the trouble is knowing which songs to cut. I would imagine that when writing, directing, and producing your first movie, every scene and every line is incredibly personal – it never hurts to have an outsider kill your darlings for you.

Narcissism is a powerful force. A dash of it can be terribly useful and motivating – too much and you crumble under the weight of your own arrogance. Artists have to wield this force carefully. A passing theme in This World Won’t Break is the old adage, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” Whether you are a first-time filmmaker or a struggling musician, the wooden nickel is believing you are owed a shot at glory or believing that things have to be done a certain way. The wooden nickel is believing you can do it alone. This World Won’t Break is a testament to the potential that exists in all of us…together.