Travis (Cody Clarke) is a directionless 20-something who fills his time on hook-up apps having meaningless casual flings. That is until he matches with Daphne (Emily Frembgen), who he inadvertently discovers has a gift for lyric writing. This reignites his own love for music and, grabbing his guitar, he persuades Daphne to form a band together despite her intense hesitation. However, this decision creates issues on the burgeoning relationship between the two.
Strummer is the sequel to Shredder, the 2011 guitar-based indie drama by New York filmmaker Cody Clarke. By the director’s insistence, you do not need to have seen Shredder to follow or appreciate Strummer by design. I, being the obsessive completionist that I am, opted to ignore this advice and watch Shredder anyway, as both are now available on Clarke’s YouTube channel in light of the Coronavirus. I can confirm that you do not need to have watched the prior film, but there is some really fun parallels in both films that enhanced my appreciation (such as getting actor Robert Youngren back to play Travis’ father).
Don’t expect a hell of a lot of plot here, The conflict is cantered mostly on the two leads and their relationship. There’s a lot of deadspace in certain scenes, including its opening. While this could likely grate on people, it does get across how empty and unfulfilling Travis’ life direction is. He’s someone who doesn’t really make a lot of effort to pursue a larger goal until he attaches one to a woman he encounters with a gift for writing. While it can certainly drag on a little at times, it effectively punctuates the listlessness and struggles to connect with modern day hook-up culture.
Given the premise, there’s a lot of pillow talk, and these moments play out pretty earnestly in places. Not every joke lands, but I did get a chuckle here and there. There’s that sense of post-coital awkwardness which is palpable.. Again, this drives home the loneliness and emptiness of a lack of life direction as you get older, and this is offset with how much more energetic and alive the movie feels when Cody and Daphne are working on their music.
A lot of this movie resonates despite my own misgivings with certain elements. Most of that being I find the hook up scenes to be a little repetitive. Especially after Daphne arrives, they feel a little awkwardly placed and make the mood feel meandering where it had better control of its intent prior to this. When we see Travis get more into Daphne while Daphne falls in love with the music, another scene hitting home this dichotomy would have helped that narrative flow a little better. It’s certainly not badly handled as is, just feels a little rushed when the nail drops on their burgeoning rapport. There’s also some audio that doesn’t feel like it’s part of the scene that took me out of the movie in places. It’s possible this was intentional, and I can sympathise trying to soundproof on a lower budget, but it felt distracting and out of place.
Despite all that, I really did enjoy Strummer. Its awkward and deliberately tempered flow really captures the mood of a man trying to break out of a rut and a relationship being compromised because of two people falling too far into romantticised passions too fast. It’s a nice, quiet character piece that doesn’t rely on shock or weighty elements to tell its story or engage with the space it puts its audience in. It’s anti-romantic in the right way, and can strike a chord even if your Tinder isn’t blowing up right now…