Review: ‘Killian & the Comeback Kids,’ starring Taylor A. Purdee

April 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left: Yael Elisheva, Andrew O’Shanick, Emily Mest, Shannon O’Boyle, Shane Andries, Taylor A. Purdee and John Donchak in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” (Photo courtesy of Hope Runs High Films)

“Killian & the Comeback Kids”

Directed by Taylor A. Purdee

Culture Representation: Taking place in Easton, Pennsylvania, the dramatic film “Killian & the Comeback Kids” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After graduating from college, a struggling folk-rock musician reluctantly moves back in with his parents, and he puts together a band so that they can perform at an upcoming high-profile music festival.

Culture Audience: “Killian & the Comeback Kids” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching movies about independent artists who follow their dreams, despite obstacles that get in their way.

Emily Mest, John Donchak, Yael Elisheva and Taylor A. Purdee in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” (Photo courtesy of Hope Runs High Films)

Some of the acting in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” is amateurish and stilted, but this heartfelt drama about obscure folk-rock musicians has enough realistic scenarios and engaging performances that are worth watching. The music in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” is also enjoyable and blends well into the movie, which could have come across as just a feature-length music video. Instead, there’s a meaningful but still predictable story of the struggles that independent artists face when they have a hard time getting paid for doing what they love.

“Killian & the Comeback Kids” (which takes place in Easton, Pennsylvania) is the feature-film directorial debut of real-life musician Taylor A. Purdee, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay, is the star of the film, and is one of the movie’s producers and composers. He previously directed short films and music videos. That experience shows, especially in how the musical performances are appealingly filmed. The movie is loosely based on Purdee’s own real-life experiences as an independent musician who hails from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

In “Killian & the Comeback Kids,” Purdee is Killian Raison, a folk-rock musician in his mid-20s who has recently graduated from college with a degree in music and music business, but he has to move back in with his parents because he can’t find a job. Killian’s father (played by Nathan Purdee, Taylor’s real-life father) and Killian’s mother (played by Kassie Wesley DePaiva), who both do not have first names in the movie, encourage him to be creative, but they don’t expect Killian to be an unemployed freeloader for an extended period of time. Killian doesn’t want that either.

In fact, he’s a little embarrassed about not having enough financial independence to have his own place. Killian also feels somewhat disillusioned because, after getting a well-earned degree from an unnamed prestigious university, finding work has been a lot more difficult than he thought it would be. Killian’s sister Rowan (played by Genesis McCaulley), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, has a very good relationship with Killian and is happy that he’s back in the household.

Killian’s parents are generally supportive of what he wants to do with his life, but they worry that Killian could be wasting time pursuing a career in music when he could be considering other career options. To make matters worse, Easton is a working-class city that’s experiencing an economic slump. It’s the type of town where steel mills used to employ lot of people, but most of those steel mills have closed or downsized. Killian remarks soon after moving back to Easton that the town square “used to be more bustling, even four years ago.”

To make some extra cash, Killian starts busking in the town square with his acoustic guitar. While performing to mostly indifferent people passing by, Killian encounters a former classmate from his high school. His name is Sam Amico (played by John Donchak), who also recently graduated from college and is back in Easton. Sam (who’s quiet and socially awkward) and Killian make some small talk about their former classmates from high school. When Sam leaves, Killian comments to himself about Sam: “Such a weird guy.”

Although some people in Killian’s life advise him to get a “real job,” what Killian really wants to do is make a living out of writing and performing his music. Killian has big plans to go on tour with his musical partner Ben (played by Liam Higgins), who was his college roommate. They perform as a duo, with Ben as the singer and Killian as the guitarist/songwriter.

But those tour plans fall apart when Ben backs out of the tour to take a more stable and higher-paying job as an A&R executive at a record company. Ben says of his decision: “It’s a whole new world, and we’ll put something together once we’ve settled into real life. It’s the smart move.”

These words do little to comfort Killian, who knows that Ben is probably going to stay in this A&R job and not go back to making music with Killian. With no tour and no immediate way to make money, Killian mopes around and wallows in a little self-pity before he decides to shake it off and try to overcome this obstacle. It’s this “can do” attitude that is one of the defining characteristics of Killian’s personality.

Killian and Sam were never really close friends in high school, where Sam had the unflattering nickname Clammy Sammy because of his reputation for having clammy hands and being a little bit of an outcast weirdo. However, Killian knows that Sam is a talented sound engineer. And so, Killian decides he’ll take a chance and ask Sam if Sam wants to work with Killian in music.

Killian invites Sam out for drinks at a local bar, where Killian tells Sam about his predicament of losing Ben as a musical collaborator. Killian also tells Sam that he wants to form another music act, but he doesn’t want to be the frontman/singer for his next band. Sam asks Killian why Killian shouldn’t be a lead singer, since he would be singing his own songs. Killian can’t really come up with a good answer to that question. And you know what that means: Killian will eventually start singing lead vocals for his next band.

In the meantime, the name of another former classmate comes up in this conversation: Rose Jackson (played by Shannon O’Boyle), who was known for being an excellent singer in school. And so, Rose is approached to be the singer for this fledgling band, and she says yes. Sam is already on board as the band’s sound engineer. Rose (who is outgoing and confident) and Sam (who is shy and nerdy) end up connecting emotionally during the course of the story and have an “opposites attract” romance.

One day, Killian sees an online ad for a music contest sponsored by the fictional streaming service Pandorify, an obvious play on words of Pandora and Spotify. The contest is open to Lehigh Valley artists, and the winner will get to perform at Fest, which is an annual high-profile music festival in Easton. The winner’s pay isn’t much ($5,000 for the winner’s performance), but the publicity and exposure for performing at Fest is even more valuable. This contest further fuels Killian’s ambition to form a band in time to enter this contest.

Killian tries to recruit more members for his band. Most of the people he asks already know Killian from his high school days. Emmett (played by Dylan Côté) has a day job as a manager at clothing retailer American Eagle. He’s skeptical about joining this band and tells Killian: “I don’t know what you’ve been up to for the last four years, but I’ve been trying to start a life.” Emmett ultimately declines the offer, and so do other people who are approached by Killian.

A drummer named Tristan (played by Shane Andries) is even harder than Emmett to approach, because Tristan has “hated” Killian since Tristan was 9 years old. However, Tristan (who is also living with his parents) isn’t doing much with his life, and he wants to be a professional musician. And so, whatever childhood animosity he toward Killian, he puts it aside to join the band.

Killian still needs more people in the band to fulfill his vision for what he wants his music to sound like when performed live. Killian holds some auditions that are open to the public, so the movie has an expected montage of no-talents and misfits doing failed auditions. It’s like the filmmakers took the worst real-life auditions from “American Idol” and decided to spoof them in the movie for some comic relief.

Eventually, through recommendations, Killian finds the rest of the people who join the band’s lineup: bass player Josh (played Andrew O’Shanick), singer/guitarist Melanie (played by Emily Mest) and singer/guitarist Therese (played by Yael Elisheva). Killian and Rose are the lead singers, while Tristan is the drummer. Rose is the one who thinks of the band’s name: Killian & the Comeback Kids.

Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as expected for this new band. There’s a major roadblock that happens, which leads to a very “hey kids, let’s put on a show” turn of events that’s somewhat corny, but somehow it works just fine in this movie. And in case anyone thinks this movie is all about young people, a few of the band members’ fathers (including Killian’s dad and Tristan’s dad) used to be musicians, so they have their moments to shine.

The movie’s soundtrack songs for “Killian & the Comeback Kids” are performed by Taylor A. Purdee and his real-life band the Cumberland Kids. Taylor A. Purdee and Higgins (another member of the Cumberland Kids) wrote the songs and musical score, with standout tunes that include “Where We Should Be Today” and “Weightless in the Flood.” A lot of people who see this movie will come away as new fans of this band.

“Killian & the Comeback Kids” has some authentic moments that depict the frustrations of independent artists who often have to choose between turning their creative pursuits into a career (which is time-consuming and often doesn’t pay well) or taking a safer career route by getting a more stable job. The movie also shows the reality that many recent college graduates experience of having to move back in with parents because they can’t find work, even though people have been taught to believe that a college degree makes someone more likely to find a job.

Where the movie needed improvement is in some parts of the screenplay and editing, which can at times (but fortunately, not too often) give off a “student film” vibe. However, the scrappy independent nature of the film actually fits well with the story, which is about a scrappy independent band. Writer/director Taylor A. Purdee, who is more charismatic as a musician than as an actor, gives enough depth to the other characters in the band so that the movie doesn’t look like a complete vanity project.

Overall, the pacing of the movie is good enough, with a few fleeting moments that drag with monotony. For a low-budget film, it’s a solid and admirable effort. Is “Killian & the Comeback Kids” the type of movie that will change audiences’ lives? No, but it’s entertaining in most of the right ways, even if the way it’s presented isn’t always professionally polished.

Hope Runs High Films released “Killian & the Comeback Kids” in select U.S. cinemas on September 18, 2020. The movie was re-released in select U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021. “Killian & the Comeback Kids” will be released on digital and VOD on August 5, 2022.

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