Erica Dunton’s “The 27 Club” (2008): A Surprisingly Unique Indie-Road Movie

“The 27 Club” is Erica Dunton’s 2008 film, starring Joe Anderson as Elliot, James Forgey as Tom, David P. Emrich as Three Words and Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter) as Stella.

The 27 Club (aka “Forever 27”) is a group of musicians who’ve all died young, at the age of 27. The infamous list includes Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones and several others.

SPOILERS!

Having only a vague idea of what the film was about pre-viewing, I was immediately skeptical when the main character (Elliot) resembled Kurt Cobain. But this wasn’t another “Last Days,” and it wasn’t a tribute or imitation of the lives of any 27 Club member. Instead, we view a completely fictional story about a band called Finn, whose leading member Tom commits suicide one week after turning 27. The remaining band-mate Elliot decides to take a road trip to his hometown in order to fulfill Tom’s last wishes, hiring a driver and doing plenty of soul-searching along the way.

The captivating aspect of the 27 Club in pop culture is only reflected in the movie scene where a newscaster announces Tom’s death by associating it with other 27 Club members. The rest of the film, however, tastefully rejects the fated idea of “live fast die young,” and instead explores what happens when someone instead chooses the idea that “life goes on,” whether this person is a famous musician or a bum on the street.

In the film, Tom’s death is forthright labeled a suicide by drug overdose. This is a far less glamorous cause of death than the mystery/conspiracy theory elements that tend to surround figures like Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. And unlike most movies about rock stars, fictional or otherwise, there wasn’t much of excess and drug use in this film. Instead, the director implies this rock-star lifestyle through Elliot’s flashbacks of his and Tom’s career and childhood growing up.

Perhaps one of the most telling scenes is a flashback of Elliot and Tom talking in a church. Making a reference to the Romans, Tom tells Elliot that 30 years was the expected lifespan of most men in ancient times; 27 is the magic number, and thus, Tom intends not to live past this age- he’ll have lived all the time he needed to live if he could make it to 27. In this way, the audience assumes that Tom’s suicide stemmed from stubbornness- he wasn’t going to break his word, nor grow old and bitter, like his father.

While the mystery of the film lies in the purpose of the road trip- what Elliot is delivering for Tom and to whom- we are almost content in not knowing this detail, as we discover more of Elliot and Tom’s relationship the further the road trip extends. This isn’t just about Elliot losing his band-mate; it’s about him losing his friend, his brother, his other half. And while road trip films of self-discovery have been done before, we see a different perspective through Elliot’s character. Besides being under immense pressure from the media and fans in regards to dealing with death and the collapse of his band, Elliot is under unspoken pressure from Tom, even from the grave. We see through flashbacks that Elliot didn’t have a family of his own, and thus, without Tom, he is completely on his own for the first time in his life.

“The 27 Club,” besides being a great drama interspersed with bits of comedy, displays some of the amazing people you can meet on the road, as well as some of the rare, beautiful landscapes of America.

Overall, this was a surprisingly worthwhile indie-flick. I look forward to seeing more from this director in the future.

(To download some Finn songs, click here).