‘Spare Change’ (2010) Has a Double Meaning – Movie Review

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The Spare Change (2010) movie made its world debut at the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival last week.  Our writer and photographer Donald Lee got a chance to cover the film and the red carpet. Below is our Spare Change (2010) review.

What is success? What makes us successful? For those of us brought up in New York, it’s about value: what we make, what attention we receive, and what determines our worth through actions that people want and are willing to pay for. It all adds up to dollars from cents. But for all that we gain, does it make sense?

Spare Change 2010 Movie

Enter Spare Change (2010) movie. No, this has nothing to do with 9/11, although it does try to convince us about something we do not think of in our everyday affairs. Filmed under the constraints of a shoestring budget so low that director/actress Suzette A. Gunn could not even offer an estimate, combined with time constraints that only allowed a little over a week of filming, Spare Change must have been no small task to complete.

Our story centers on Trey Dice. A successful saxophonist, he is a rising star in jazz who is reaching a height of fame he only dreamed of from his days living in the cramped city life. Success does not equate to happiness, however, as he is stricken with despondency and still recovering from the loss of his mother. Fate starts to find him in the form of a panhandler who represents both the success he can achieve and the loss he will find.

The reason I mentioned the constraints for Suzette Gunn’s Spare Change is because I have to praise any film that really tries to bring its vision under such strict constraints. Gunn was not making this film under the guise of appealing to the masses. If anything, it was daring just for trying since this was initially supposed to be a short film. The other reason is because this film suffers from several issues, the somewhat tired premise aside.

I will forego potential issues with the filming itself, as time constraints have littered Suzette Gunn’s Spare Change acting with stiff lines that could have been fixed with some improvisation. I will even forego how the single cinematographer could have offered a more embracing feel between the actors by having them retake the shots from different angles as well (there is one scene in particular that stands out for me between Trey and the homeless man (Fred Valle) and Fred affectionately touches his shoulder, but we can not really see it because the angle is fixed. This is a lost moment that could have really offered more to the viewer).

So with these issues aside, I have to question the choices in editing. A particular entity that sticks out throughout this entire film is that scenes have a tendency to plod. We begin with a three-minute jazz solo and all we see is Trey play in an indiscriminate room. Every few moments, we see an audience member or a random part of the room, and we do not even know his name until the end of this dragging solo. I’m sad to say that this is not the first time we are treated to a scene that could have been clipped better.

A more daring editor could have trimmed quite an amount of fat from this film. There are also some techniques added to the film that are introduced for one scene and never again. In the opening, we see this in the form of a two-screen overlap (which honestly should not have been used as this actually made the film feel cheap). Later on, we are treated to scenes that are in Trey’s mind as he speaks, but we can not really tell if it is what he is doing or not and it is only used during this one confrontation with his ex. Otherwise, Trey is only portrayed to us as a bit of an enigma otherwise who has memories, but they never are placed this same way.

The truth of it is that as a short film, Suzette Gunn’s Spare Change (2010) would have been a better film. It would still be a significantly-sized film, but it would have also been a tighter film that would keep the attention of the audience in the process and emphasized better the dual meaning of “change” along the way as well. So to Ms. Gunn and her troupe, I give her a nod to acknowledge their efforts, but I hope her next project will have a little more consideration on what they can change so that the values make more sense.

Spare Change (2010) movie review
This film receives a PA

Rating System:

P… Horrible
PA… Tolerable
PAR… Good
PARL… Kinda Great
PARLÉ… Classic


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