Are you tired of romantic comedies that make dating look too easy and relationships too rosy? Have you ever moved in with someone for all the wrong reasons? If so, Jameel Saleem is bringing a new un-romantic comedy, Exit Strategy, to theaters Friday just for you.
Actor-screenwriter Saleem, 30, is a Philadelphia native who developed this offbeat screenplay from his popular Web series of the same title. He hopes his fan base on the Web will create buzz to help boost his film.
The low-budget, independent Exit Strategy is also the feature debut for director Michael Whitton. The movie, premiering locally in Cherry Hill and Franklin Mills, has a cast that includes local comedian and actor Kevin Hart, who makes a cameo appearance with Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy from Plus Power 106FM. Big Boy was executive producer and his Ida's Son Productions helped finance the film, which cost less than $100,000, in association with Ask Around Productions.
When the movie opens, James (Saleem), manager of a collectibles and thrift store, is newly homeless, just evicted from his apartment. Desperate for a place to stay, he moves in with his pretty but quirky type-A girlfriend, Kim (Kimelia Weathers). She's an annoying neat freak who housecleans on Sundays, won't let James sleep late on weekends, and refuses to install his flat-screen television in the bedroom because it clashes with her pink decor. Not only are her rules for domestic engagement unbearably grating, but eventually she won't accept the truth: James really wants to break up with her.
Screenwriter Saleem says his passion for filmmaking came from growing up with parents who were big movie buffs. "My mother took me to the movies every Sunday. That was our ritual. I've been watching movies ever since I can remember," Saleem said during a phone interview.
Having seen and enjoyed Woody Allen's now-classic comedy Sleeper when he was 9 years old, Saleem cites Allen as his favorite director and Annie Hall as one of his favorite neurotic-city-dweller rom-coms.
In 2007, Saleem created Exit Strategy, a deadpan comedy series on the Web, and the serial developed a loyal following. Over three years, seven chapters were shot. "It was really popular online, and many friends asked when we were going to do another episode."
At the time, Saleem was pursuing a career in screenwriting. "This seemed like the right next move," he said. "I want to tell fun stories. I wrote a drama and a horror film for another director, but the films I enjoy the most are the movies that have some joy to them in a happy ending. I like taking a situation and finding the joy in it. If you lived your life that way, you'd live a happier, less stressful life."
Newcomer Weathers appeared on an episode of HBO's The Wire and in Mario Van Peebles' Bring Your A Game. She has been acting professionally for five years. The character of Kim, the pitiable girlfriend who just won't quit in Exit Strategy, is also the persona Weathers developed for the Web series.
Kim is derived from people in Weathers' life. "She's a blend of some of my female friends," she said. "She's people that I know, and a bit of me, too. We're both control freaks. We're both people who are always trying to plan, to control situations around us. She's just me . . . but taken to the extreme."
Watching the film, women might wonder why clever and attractive Kim would be so desperately unwilling to accept James' rejection. On the surface, Exit Strategy might send the message that women in relationships are unbearable.
But Weathers, who is now 28, had a particular twentysomething life experience in mind. "I developed the Web character of Kim at a time when things weren't going well in my life," she explains. "I didn't have the career I wanted. I wasn't making the money I wanted. I didn't even have the car I wanted. I thought it would be funny to create a character that found one area in her life she could control: her relationship. For Kim, that's what's going on. She's found James and doesn't want to let him go."
Weathers plans to pursue comedic acting and has an HBO project. Exit Strategy helped her lay the groundwork for that goal. She has long admired such stars as Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, and Leah Remini: "They're funny women who could do amazing things with their face alone, or with the tone of their voice," Weathers said.
Philadelphia radio personality Quincy "QDeezy" Harris assisted in bringing the first theatrical release of this African American comedy to this region in time for a Valentine's Day run. He secured a media partnership with WPHI radio.
Saleem and QDeezy also completed a video blog during the filming. The first day can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csPXNE9YGb8.
When asked what message he wanted to send with Exit Strategy, Saleem said, "The ultimate message is to be honest and up front. You can save yourself a lot of stress and difficulty if you're honest and brave enough to say what you really want to say."