Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, Devon Graye, Jane Levy, David Yow, Gary Anthony Williams
Directed By: Macon Blair
Plot: Ruth (Lynskey) finds her life turned upside down after a break in. After feeling that the cops are doing nothing to retrieve her stolen items, she enlists the help of a neighbor (Wood) in tracking down the thieves that wronged her.
What Works: Misdirection. This film starts off as a quiet, quirky indie comedy. Not really a comedy, but maybe a movie with comedic aspects? The first half of the film doesn’t really prepare you for the last half, and I think the misdirection works. A lot of critics would normally peg this for having tone problems, or “not knowing what kind of film it wants to be”, but I think the end doesn’t betray the film. I think part of the setup is getting invested in these characters, and their genuine oddball nature. There’s a definite “influenced by the Coen Brothers” vibe here, and they used that tactic a lot. For example, Fargo utilizes a few odd characters, but the film definitely still works as a mystery/thriller. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a film that dares to be different and succeeds. Melanie Lynskey is such a good actress, who has had a ton of overlooked performances. Her movies are often so small, people forget about them by the time Oscars roll around. She’s had stronger performances, sure, but this is just another good performance from an actress who has yet to be recognized for her work on a major scale. Director Macon Blair makes a strong case for himself going forward, as he manages to keep the film on one level, slowly building to a tone shift, when the movie starts getting very serious. This abrupt change still works really well, and these characters still work even in a much darker setting.
What Doesn’t Work: For the amount of screentime he has, Elijah Wood’s Tony is a very one-dimensional character, not given nearly the character arc that Ruth has. Considering his “above the title” status as a co-lead, I have to deduct points because he’s treated instead like a supporting character we don’t need more information about. The lack of development in the other characters works, because the story isn’t about them, and they have limited screentime. Wood is in too much of the movie for the audience to know so little, and for him to seemingly remain the same from start to finish. Also, Jane Levy? Why bother casting someone so talented in a role that really does nothing. Is Jane Levy hard up for work now? Is this what it has come to for her?
Final Word: I lamented last year when Netflix picked up The Fundamentals Of Caring without a theatrical release. I thought it deserved a shot at finding a wider audience, because it was a more marketable film with a semi-marketable cast. This film doesn’t have a marketable feel to it, and rather matches the mold that Netflix is seeking out. It’s a little film that needs to be discovered, and by putting it on a high profile on Netflix, it props it up more than it would have gotten in a small theatrical release. More people have a chance to see it, or feel like they’re seeing something new and special because of it. Plus, I don’t think this film would have won any awards, even though the script is really good, and Blair’s direction is worth commending. So instead, I’ll praise them for helping this film find more eyes, instead of getting lost in the shuffle.
Final Grade: A-