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Inside the summer's most buzzed about indie

Why an uninhibited drug-laced party movie isn’t your typical Hollywood fare

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Lola Glaudini
David Axelbank

”Groove,” the little $500,000 rave flick that was snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics for $1.5 million at last winter’s Sundance film festival, may have a big studio distributor. But the makers of this buzzed about independent film (and many critics) insist that audiences are in for an authentic experience nonetheless. EW’s Owen Gleiberman, for one, calls it ”the first feature to capture, in its very form, the ritualized ecstasy of rave culture…. an all night long, tribal courtship ensemble comedy in the spirit of ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Dazed and Confused.”’

”Groove”’s 28 year old star Lola Glaudini (best known for her two-year stint as Dolores Mayo on ”NYPD Blue”) explains that the movie is ”an authentic depiction of an underground scene because it comes from someone who is part of that scene.” That someone is the film’s writer-director-editor, Greg Harrison, 31, who makes no secret of his hard-partying past. In the mid ’90s, Harrison was a struggling film editor and a kingpin in Los Angeles’ rave subculture — a loosely organized series of all-night dance parties held illegally in warehouses. His job: ”finding venues, helping organize parties, the whole thing.”

Harrison, however, chose to set his film in San Francisco, which he calls the center of the techno music scene. ”There really is a connection between geek culture and rave culture [in S.F.],” he tells EW Online. Both share an irreverence toward old-school authority, and both tend to communicate electronically (raves are usually organized over the Net). Raves allow technophiles to ”co-opt technology for human purposes,” Harrison says, instead of merely using it for financial gain. And to further heighten the local color, he even asked hometown DJ WishFM (Wade Hampton) to compile and mix the soundtrack.

The director also didn’t shy away from another key ingredient in raves: drugs. You won’t see any ”Just Say No” moralizing or overdoses in ”Groove,” however. Harrison says his experiences at raves where the drug Ecstasy was taken were positive and that he ”was determined to infuse that optimism into the film.” Indeed, Ecstasy plays a key role in ”Groove”’s plot, in which a straitlaced young technical writer named David (Hamish Linklater) takes ”E,” falls for an experienced raver named Leyla (Glaudini), and reconsiders his fenced-in corporate life. ”It’s not that I wanted to show Ecstasy in a positive light,” says Harrison. ”It’s that I wanted to show very subtle aspects of [the drug]. Not the overdosing, not the guy who flips out and jumps off the roof. No ‘Reefer Madness’ thing.”

For Glaudini, who says she’s no stranger to the rave scene herself, it’s the focus on self-discovery that sets ”Groove” apart from last year’s well reviewed rave-themed movie ”Go.” ”That movie’s not about the rave scene, just because they happen to go to a rave or take Ecstasy,” says the actress. ”They actually end up at a titty bar in Vegas. They end up OD-ing. It’s about all this other shit.”

Even the way ”Groove” was financed reflects what Harrison sees as the communal spirit of rave culture. Much of the film’s production costs — including $100,000 of emergency completion funds — came from young ravers who hold day jobs as computer programmers and Web entrepreneurs. The golf course it ain’t: In California, Harrison says, it’s these informal gatherings for techno fans that are ”the acceptable social, business mixer.”

Okay, so ”Groove” honestly depicts the underground, but that doesn’t mean the mainstream attention it’s getting won’t help its makers. Glaudini just wrapped the Johnny Depp film ”Blow,” in which she plays a drug dealer’s girlfriend. And Harrison is sifting through directing offers from studios, many of which ignored his earlier writing attempts. He says that after the film wowed Sundance, ”People were pitching me, in classic Hollywood style, things like ‘Murder in Clubland.”’ Another offer came from Wesley Snipes’ production company. Explains Harrison: ”They said, ‘We’ve got this new action-thriller with scenes that take place in clubs and we want someone to rave it up for us.’ You know, ‘Get that ”Groove” guy — Give me that ”Groove” feeling!”’ Talk about career ecstasy.