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Quality of Life

Where do you draw the line?

Two struggling youths, Heir and Vain have frustratingly few creative outlets for their vivid imaginations. With limited options, Heir (Lane Garrison) and Vain (Brian Burnam) take to the streets with spray paint cans in lieu of brushes and barren concrete walls for their canvases. Clearly gifted graffiti artists, the duo's work can be found all over the Mission District in San Francisco. An unfortunate encounter with the authorities turns their lives upside down leaving both artists' respective futures up in the air.

Benjamin Morgan's directorial debut Quality of Life is an interesting reflection on how one defines art. Unfortunately for Heir and Vain their form of artistic expression is illegal and violates one of the so-called "quality of life" laws. Heir and Vain's graffiti is lumped into the same category as prostitution, drugs, and general urban blight.

Heir and Vain's run in with the law forces both to make some difficult choices about which path to follow. Continuing to hone their craft on concrete canvases and risk hard time or take a more conventional path. While Heir is frustrated, he seems to recognize the futility of fighting a system he has little ability to influence. In contrast, Vain continues to wantonly violate "quality of life" laws seemingly unable to see any alternative.

Lane Garrison injects charisma and energy into his performance as the more rational Heir. Heir is not a terribly complex character, but Garrison turns him into someone we care about and want to see succeed. Brian Burnam does a serviceable job as the less together Vain. Coked out, immature and flaky Vain's fate seems sealed within the first thirty minutes of the film. Despite Heir's attempts to help Vain, it seems there is little that can be done to stop Vain's downward spiral.

What's interesting about Quality of Life is that the trajectory of the story in many ways seems to undermine the clear stance Benjamin Morgan has towards the very laws he's criticizing. While Morgan views these "quality of life" laws as absurd, the resolution of the film certainly seems to suggest that one is best served by not violating said laws, regardless of how "absurd" they might be.

Quality of Life is a solid debut for Morgan and while there is no one aspect of the film that can truly be characterized as exceptional, he explores an interesting subculture with which he clearly has a great deal of familiarity. Morgan provides a compelling narrative and at least one character (Heir) who the audience can root for.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars