Brendan Fraser has been acting for about 30 years now and after a harsh period in his life and career he seems to be back making stellar movies and TV shows. He recently made No Small Move with Steven Soderbergh and is currently filming Killers of the Flower Moon with Martin Scorsese.
At one time, he was appearing in Oscar winning movies such as Gods and Monsters and Crash, but then there was a period of movies that were critical and/or financial failures and a personal life that included an expensive divorce, severe pain from stunt injuries followed by multiple surgeries. Fraser even came out and had revealed he was the victim of a sexual assault/harassment.
And for many celebrities to be hit so hard, you really want to root for them. Some celebrities seem to self-destruct through substance abuse or get in trouble with the law. But Fraser hasn’t. He came back in TV shows such as Trust and Doom Patrol.
I recently watched Twenty Bucks, which came out during the Fall of 1993 during the independent film rush of the 1990s. Fraser plays one of the mainly ensemble cast as the movie involves the journey of a $20 bill as it goes through multiple exchanges.
It starts out with a young mother going to an ATM to get the money out, but since she has her child in the other hand, she quickly tries to put it in her back pocket but it slips out and finds itself in the hands of Angeline (Linda Hunt), a vagabond who looks at the serial numbers and intends to play them in the lottery.
But the bill is snatched out of her hands by a teenage boy on a skateboard who goes into a bakery where the owner played by David Rasche in a bad French accent sells him a pastry. The baker puts the bill in his pocket as he tends to two other customers, a wealthy businessman Jack Holliday (George Morfogen) and his daughter, Anna (Sam Sorbo using her maiden name of Jenkins in the credits), as they look over a wedding cake design. Jack pays the baker and is given the $20 as change.
Later at a rehearsal dinner party, Jack gives the bill to Anna’s fiance, Sam Mastrewski (Fraser) as a symbolic gesture as Jack was an Arabic immigrant who only had $20 when he came to America after exchanging his money.
To say anymore would give away the pleasure of watching how, when and why the $20 is exchanged over the course of what appears to be a few weeks in the lives of dozens of people in an unnamed metropolitan city. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area was used for exteriors but everything else was filmed in the Los Angeles area.
There are a lot of little stories going on and the $20 bill is cleverly used. Sam’s story doesn’t end with him getting married, but that’s all I am going to say as it ends up in the hands of a funeral director, played by the underrated Melora Walters, who has a side business that ends Sam’s engagement.
There’s also a story about a waitress, Emily Adams (Elisabeth Shue) who wants to be a writer but doesn’t get much encouragement from her father, Bruce (Alan North) causing her to be estranged from him and her mother, Ruth (Diane Baker). Emily has a boyfriend, Neil Campbell (David Schwimmer in a pre-Friends role) as a young businessman working on another get-rich-quick business.
The movie does take a darker turn of sorts as it introduces Frank (Steve Buscemi) who pulls a quick hustle on Emily and is recruited by a more effective criminal, Jimmy (Christopher Lloyd in a role that shows just how great an actor he is). Frank and Jimmy pull off a string of robberies all over the area before it ends badly.
Angeline pops back up during one of the robberies trying to get some lottery tickets. And even though we don’t know it, but Emily’s brother, Gary (Kevin Kilner) is a witness to one of the robberies. He appears later in more scenes.
There is an Robert Altman-esque vibe to the movie. The movie came out the same time as Altman’s Short Cuts was in theaters. While the characters in that movie were more defined, the movie was over three hours and they were given the extra time.
While some characters only appear in one or two scenes, other characters such as Sam, Angeline and Emily keep appearing periodically.
Keva Rosenfield, who directed the movie, manages to keep us interested in the movie as the story navigates among so many characters. Each character is on screen as long as they are needed.
Richard Linklater had used a similar approach in his debut movie Slacker as it portrayed about 24 hours in the Austin, Texas area. But that movie got tiresome after a while. At only 91 minutes, Twenty Bucks manages to tell a good story. Part of the problem with Slacker was that the characters only appeared in one scene, so we were jumping from one character to the other. I understand that Linklater was trying to show us the Austin scene but some of the characters were too one-dimensional to care about.
By having the characters be connected even though they don’t know it gives the movie better structure. Originally written in 1935 by Endre Bohem, the script spent decades gathering dust, before his son, Leslie, was able to update it. I can only imagine how this would’ve looked with Hollywood actors of yesteryear.