Monday, June 18, 2012

THINGS I DON'T UNDERSTAND: The Film Babble Blog Review

This indie film, made for the low budget of $175,000, is now making the film festival rounds. Later this week it will be shown at The Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, early July at the at the Northwest Ohio Independent Film Festival, and July 24th-29th it’ll be in competition for several awards as one of only 9 selected feature films at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine, Illinois.

(Dir. David Spaltro, 2012)

In the New York-based David Spaltro’s second full-length feature, Molly Ryman stars as a 20-something aged graduate student who is obsessed with the subject of her thesis about what happens after we die. So much so that she attempted suicide as an “experiment,” she tells us (and we see) in her dryly spoken opening voice-over.

Ryman lives with 2 arty room-mates (Hugo Dillon and Melissa Hampton) in a Brooklyn loft above a bar, where she has a crush on the bartender (Aaron Mathias).

Her therapist (Lisa Eichhorn) tells our sardonic protagonist that her father wants her to change her lifestyle habits, specifically that she “needs to stop drinking and whoring herself every night.”

“But I’m so good at it.” Ryman replies with a smirk.

Now, this is coming from somebody who works in bookstore retail because she considers it a “pressure-less expectation-free zone.”

Although she’s interviewed many “near-deathers,” as she calls them, Ryman doesn’t quite make a real connection until she meets Grace Folsom as a woman dying of cancer in Catholic hospice. A connection is something Violet needs, as she and her room-mates are having trouble raising money to pay their rent, the brooding bartender is ignoring her passes, and she’s burned out by too many one-night-stands.

Spaltro’s well-written film has a naturalistic pace. It doesn’t feel like we are caught up in plot mechanics, no, we are hanging, smoking cigarettes, and drinking beers, with Ryman and her friends in their beloved dank bar and drab yet utterly hip dwelling, which are dark, yet sharply shot by cinematographer Gus Sacks.

Ryman and Folsom’s exchanges are the heart of the film, and they are as witty as they are moving. 

At first snark meets snark, but these two souls – more confused than lost – have plenty of both witty and moving insights to share with each other and us. Folsom steals the film from Ryman in one scene in which she sobs saying that she doesn’t want to go.

There is not a trace of emotional manipulation in that moment, a testament to Folsom’s performance and Spaltro’s deft direction.

This is not to sell Ryman short - hers is an honest and affecting depiction of a jaded woman on the edge of hardcore depression, but aware, even if hesitant, of the possibility of enlightenment. As she says in her intro: “Okay, maybe there’s a light.”

There may be some heavy handiness, a few superfluous subplots (as likable and invested as Dillon and Hampton are - they appear to be simply muted comic relief), and some of its one-liners may fall flat, but THINGS I DON'T UNDERSTAND gets personal with its characters and themes in a refreshing and extremely engaging way.

People say when you are young you are the most questioning, but maybe becoming an adult is realizing that the questioning never ends. We’re always going to have to deal with death, and that’s always going to be an unanswerable question.

At her most exasperated, Ryman warns, “Say ‘things happen for a reason,’ and I scream.” Folsom quips: “I’m not that clich├ęd.”

Thankfully, Spaltro’s thoughtful film isn’t either.

More later...

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