By Kathryn Whitney Boole

One of the exceptional qualities about the film “Who’s Driving Doug” is the skillful handling of camera angles, lighting and moving shots. I was not surprised to learn that the director, David Michael Conley, began his career as a cinematographer on a number of films. However, this is his first venture into directing a feature-length film. He first embraced one of the most important tasks of the director, that of “head of human resources,” and assembled a great team. His cinematographer, Tom Clancey, has an impressive resume including “Fast & Furious” and “Fast Five.” His composer, Chad Rehmann, received the 2011 ASCAP Foundation David Rose Centennial Award and has done excellent work in both film and TV. Editor Bob Mori also has a respectable resume, as does production designer Alexandra Regazzoni. All of them brought a highly professional level of work to “Who’s Driving Doug.” Michael Carnick wrote this story of handsome wheelchair-bound college student Doug, who is trying to find his identity surrounded by fellow undergrads whom he classifies in his own mind as “normal.”

Conley has also chosen his actors with skill. RJ Mitte, who plays Doug, had already portrayed a character with cerebral palsy in “Breaking Bad.” He himself has a mild case of that condition so he is able to channel the physical attributes realistically.  Within the first few minutes of the film, we come to view Doug as the “normal” character. Ray William Johnson and Paloma Kwiatkowski play the friends that accompany Doug on adventure of his first trip to Las Vegas. Daphne Zuniga is Doug’s long-suffering mom who has become fixated on the memory of her late husband. Shanti Lowry is exceptional in a cameo as a high-end Las Vegas hooker.

Zuniga does well with a difficult role. Her character seems to be drawn from the mind of the son, so she’s more of a creation of how he sees her than a complete personality. The performance that really stands out is that of Johnson as Doug’s new driver, Scott, a laid-back yet intelligent underachiever who sees things as they are even when the sight is not so pretty. Johnson exposes both the flaws and the heroics of his character.

This was somewhat of a biographical work for writer Carnick, who has a rare physical disability that confines him to a wheelchair. While still an undergrad student at UC San Diego, Carnick won first place at the 50th anniversary of the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards. Carnick and Conley had previously teamed to direct a short film that Carnick had written, so they knew they could be good partners on a feature.

“Who’s Driving Doug” is a well-crafted film on all points, with memorable characters. It brings you into Doug’s world so that you can see it from his eyes, and it’s just the same mix of tragedy, drama and joy as it would be from anyone else’s eyes.

Not rated. 99 minutes.

“Who’s Driving Doug” will be screened at the Santa Monica Film Festival at 6 p.m. March 27 at ArcLight Santa Monica.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.