Fans of independent animation will want to check out “Barber Westchester,” a delightfully eccentric film from artist Jonni Phillips Phillips. Her drawing style is appealing, and she strives for expressive creativity rather than perfection (i.e., characters with a lot of squiggly lines). This full-length animated film is inventive, unique, and amusing, offering a surreal and experimental journey to those who can appreciate the askew artistry.
In the film we meet Barber Westchester (voice of Chris Kim), a budding astronomer who gets an internship at NASA. The first day on the job, Barber learns that space is fake, and that NASA’s sole purpose is to keep up the sham. It’s a simple plot for a more complex film that waxes philosophical about life, religion, and a yearning to belong. Barber has a eccentric group of friends and a dad who is a cult preacher, and the film follows part of the lead character’s journey through life, with everyone doing the best they can.
The film has a sometimes-frustrating sense of improvisation that doesn’t wholly blend with the storytelling narrative, where characters are added on a whim and a whirlwind of ideas are batted about. There is a lot going on both visually and story-wise (including some strange musical numbers that feature original songs), and no real closure is offered in the end. You could argue that’s sort of the point, but it does make the film seem like it goes on too long.
It’s admirable to see a film that features hand-drawn animation, and “Barber Westchester” showcases the artist’s technique, individual style, and creative mind. Her work is not fancy nor polished, and Phillips made this project without the help of a major studio. For that reason, this is a truly independent film that showcases her unique voice through her art. And there’s so much to love about that.