I know Jeff can (will!) pipe up about his appreciation of this, too–and I’m curious what others would/do/will think. But I think this is a fantastic film, with a distinct visual and narrative sensibility, and Phil Morrison should (will!) be a big name in American film in the next few years.
Plot in one line: rich Chicago art-gallery owner heads South with her husband to woo a strange folk artist, and stays a stretch with hubby’s family, who seem–at first–like a glorious gallery of absurdist Southern caricatures.
However, maybe halfway into the film, Madeline (the Northerner, played by Embeth Davidtz)) sits down to “help” her ridiculously-sullen brother-in-law Johnny (Ben McKenzie) write a paper on _Huck Finn_; she notes that Jim ends up, despite the cartoonish depiction of him earlier in the novel, having a rich moral complexity that surprises us. That is exactly this movie’s signal accomplishment: it takes–and amplifies, at times savagely, at times lovingly–a set of character types drawn from stock Southern grotesque, only to reveal layers and layers of (and layers) of ambiguity in their actions and demeanor. And not just in neat reversal: we don’t suddenly realize how wonderful they are; they remain frustratingly difficult to love, or never lose their cartoonish exaggerations. Nor do we replace a knee-jerk “othering” of the Southern goofs with a distaste for the Northern/cosmopolitan. Instead, the more you know about the characters, the less you know–they just get progressively more interesting. I want to watch the movie again just to experience ’em once more.
And the direction is equally intriguing in terms of space and sound. Morrison will start a scene with family in the kitchen, then shot by static shot move us away from that room, through the house–we see living room, stairs, basement, and hear a receding murmur of the continuing conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “environment” (home, countryside, town and townspeople) shot in quite this way, but damn it’s effective; again, the film develops this whole complex sense of a lived-in, living community that is never simply (anthropologically) revealed nor simply (ironically) surface-level.
Damn, I liked this. Last note: one of the nominees for best supporting actress–Amy Adams–is great as the seemingly wide-eyed naif sister-in-law. The whole cast is astonishing, but a special nod to Johnny. The character was almost painfully familiar to me, or familiar as an exaggerated representation of a brother I often exaggeratedly represent (to myself and others). And despite never setting aside the sullen, angry, mostly-internal performance, McKenzie is dazzling–sitting at the table, angrily looking away from others, blowing smoke like his innards were on fire, he somehow conveys a sense of pain that is heartbreaking.