'Arlo and Julie' is a pleasantly quirky comedy

A lesser film than “Arlo and Julie” would be eye-roll inducing in its attempts to be quirky. The dialogue is reminiscent of “Juno,” with every character adopting an elegant but unfiltered stream-of-consciousness observations about the world around them.
The key plot point revolves around a mystery puzzle, delivered piece-by-piece by an unexpectedly wise mailman. The main characters, Arlo (Alex Dobrenko) and Julie (Ashley Spillers) are a live-in couple stuck in an emotional rut after years together. When the puzzle pieces start arriving, they become obsessed with their daily delivery, even as they begin neglecting everything else in their lives — including each other.
The film succeeds because of the strong performances at its core. Alex Dobrenko as Arlo and Ashley Spillers as Julie are adorable and believable in their portrayal of a couple whose passion is cooling. Director and UT Lecturer Steve Mims captures the hilarity of the neurotic situation while still showing the emotional core of how the characters’ relationship is strengthened and weakened over the mystery of the puzzle. The strong script — which Mims also wrote — and lead performances make “Arlo and Julie” a pleasant surprise.

Radio-television-film lecturer Steve Mims’ film, “Arlo and Julie,” will premeire during SXSW on March 10 at the ZACH Theatre. The film revolves around a couple who become involved in a mystery as they receive letters containing puzzle pieces. 

As the puzzle starts taking over their lives, the two begin to question their commitment to each other and ponder the identity of the sender.

“I had the idea with people being obsessed with puzzles for a while,” Mims said. “I built the story around [lead actor Alex Dobrenko]. We just built a little story about people becoming unglued because they can’t figure out what’s happening.”

Mims first learned about UT’s film courses when he visited Austin for a film festival and explored the program. He graduated with a Master of Arts in radio-television-film in 1987.

The film was produced in an Introduction to Narrative Direction course that Mims teaches. His students, who were mostly juniors, worked on the set as camera and lighting operators, grips and production assistants.

“I pitched the idea as a way to get my better students the opportunity to work on a film,” Mims said. “I can’t say enough about what a great job they did.”

“Arlo and Julie” was filmed in various places in Austin, including the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center on campus. The film includes some of Mims’ personal touches, including his fondness for jazz music and his interest in historical figures, particularly Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. According to Mims, he wrote these quirky subjects into the film to “make the story a little richer and deeper, and funnier as well.”

Mims hopes festival-goers will enjoy the film. He said that he and the producers are looking into finding a distributor, although there are no definite plans. 

“I wanted to premiere at SXSW because it’s a great festival and really important,” Mims said. “We’re thrilled to have ‘Arlo and Julie’ among the other films that they’re showing.”