Every year the Chicago International Film Festival tries to highlight some local talent throughout their week-long run. This year, one of those films is Marie Ulrich’s The Alley Cat. If that term sounds familiar, it’s because bike messengers have been doing races under that name for years. Ulrich’s film follows Jasper as she participates in her first race which turns in to the longest night of her life. We meet other bike messengers along the way as they all compete for bragging rights in downtown Chicago.
This is Ulrich’s first feature, and she creates more fully realized characters and drama than you find in most Hollywood fare. The shots of characters biking through the streets of the Windy City prove that Chicago can be just as cinematic as New York or Toronto. Jenny Strubin, in her debut as a feature lead, gives a fine performance as a woman trying hard to rebuild her life.
The first 45 minutes of the film go by quickly, mostly following the action of the race while giving every character a little moment or two. The final third slows down, as emotion takes over and starts to break Jasper down. There’s a slight hiccup in tone, but Ulrich sets it back on track quickly, and the movie has a satisfying conclusion.
You can see The Alley Cat in Chicago on October 18th, 20th, and 21st. Ulrich will be in attendance, along with editor Eric Houtz and producer Kathryn Henderson. Tickets can be found here.