Sometimes you watch a movie and instantly see the movies that have influenced it. With Farewell Bender, for instance, it's obvious that the movie's influences include Dazed and Confused,American Graffiti and Diner. But in this instance, it's more than just an observation. Writer-director Matt Oates acknowledges in the press notes for Bender that he and co-writer Jeremiah Lowder initially set out to make a movie similar to those exact three. Such ambition is respectable, yet allowing for such comparisons can often diminish a film's chances for independent and unrivaled praise (the near-equal esteem of Dazed and Confused to American Graffiti, which influenced it, is a rarity). Regardless of how good Bender is -- and it is surprisingly quite good -- it will unfortunately exist in the shadow of its better predecessors.
The main reason the movie doesn't rise up and supplement the group is that its story is too reliant on a catalyst: the worn-out device of a funeral, which reunites old friends. This time it is the death of the title character that brings together his high-school buddies Mitch (Kip Pardue), Stan (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Dixon (Josh Cooke). Although the funeral stimulates a number of important dramatic and philosophical angles in the script, the film requires a more freewheeling context in order to accommodate its broader points. The characters in Bender, all on the verge of an adulthood they don't seem ready for, are sufficiently interesting and enjoyable when the film consists of them simply hanging out, experiencing the story's weekend time frame no differently than any other time in their young lives.