The Master Plan
Visionary, If Rough

Kristi Love is a born-again teen evangelist.  She’s found the truth, and she wants to share it with everyone she knows… she just doesn’t know how.  Having absorbed most of her training from cheesy youth-group videos and youth-pastors-slash-cheer-leaders whose real goal is to be popular while ruling with an iron-ham fist, she’s really at sea when it comes to sharing her faith. So she tends to specialize in alienation.  Which is fitting, as things play out.

Kristi also drinks a good bit when the situation warrants, can cuss with the best of her chums, and has a decent rebellious streak.  In other words, she’s your pretty typical church-bred teen.

In his feature-length experimental look at the suburban evangelical teen subculture, “fascinated” agnostic director Aron Campisano pulls no punches, but throws no suckers, either.  He’s done his homework, and his portraits of Kristi, her chum Devan, and youth counselor April are all spot-on, both critical and sympathetic, repulsive and appealing, demonstrative of self-consciousness and oblivion.  Kristi gets enlightened, disillusioned, educated, and then re-enlightened as she finds out that everything about the world isn’t as she was told—and yet Campisano’s tale is sufficiently playful and metaphysically-minded (in spite of his own efforts) to open the possibility that she (and April) aren’t necessarily on the wrong track altogether.

Sarah Mahoney as Kristi in The Master PlanWhile I found Campisano’s narrative tightrope-walking act engaging and fair, the real strength of this film is the director’s visual style.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shoe-string budget film that was as visually arresting as The Master Plan, and aside from Tarsem’s The Fall, I haven’t seen a film in the last ten years I’d rather go back and scan through scene by scene just to analyze the images.  Campisano is the rare filmmaker who seems to remember that film is primarily a visual medium.

Campisano also found some real gems for his leads.  While I struggled a bit with Sarah Mahoney as Kristi, probably just due to personal tastes, the actor is clearly up to the challenge of carrying an entire film on her young shoulders.  In supporting roles, Heidi Van Horne (Devan), Virigina Wilcox (April), and Nicole Mosbacher (as wouldn’t-be convert Staci) all deliver highly-memorable performances.

That being said, Campisano’s film is also not really ready for prime time—a fact of which the young director is well aware.  He doesn’t get convincing performances from his older cast members, and sections of the narrative wander a bit, though his scenes and settings (often staged in burgeoning cookie-cutter housing developments… hence the irony of the film’s title) always visually pop.  A subplot involving Devan, Kristi’s grandfather, and UFOs doesn’t quite click, either.

But this is a great film for other filmmakers to study, and it’s a decent conversation-starter for those interested in dissecting the ways in which teens come to—and steer away from—faith.  Campisano has made the film available for free online viewing, and if you like it, which you well may in spite of its faults, you can think about downloading it for free too.

Serious, talented filmmakers like Campisano deserve encouragement.  And at this point in his career, I imagine he’ll still answer questions from fans (and detractors).  Check him out while he remains unfamous.

The Master Plan is unrated, but probably warrants a PG-13 for a modicum of substance use, language, and thematic material.

Courtesy of the filmmaker, Greg screened an early cut of The Master Plan on DVD some months ago… and he didn’t take notes. But he remembers quite a few details, so the film obviously stuck with him!