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dir-scr Kyle Patrick Alvarez
prd Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Cookie Carosella, Stephen Nemeth
with Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Dale Dickey, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario, Sean Ghazi, Eloy Mendez, Louis Hobson, Vu Pham, Ellen Bloodworth
release US 20.Sep.13,
UK Mar.14 flare
Object of affection: Groff and Stoll
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Based on a David Sedaris essay, this isn't so much a coming-of-age story as an odyssey in which a young man takes himself apart and tries to reassemble himself into something new. It's warm and full of darkly suggestive shadows, but filmmaker Alvarez never gives us the puzzle pieces that would make it resonate.
After grad school at Yale, David (Groff) moves to Oregon for a change of pace, calling himself Samuel and taking a job at an apple orchard. But when his Yale buddy (Bellisario) turns up as planned, she and her boyfriend (Hobson) decide to keep travelling to San Francisco. Abandoned, David throws himself into his work, befriending coworkers Pedro (Mendez), Debbie (Dickey) and Curly (Stoll), who makes a startling move on him. Fleeing, he turns to street evangelist Jon (O'Hare) for help, joining the church even though he's an atheist.
There are constant hints that David is recovering from some sort of trauma. Groff plays him as a young man afraid of his own shadow, so the people he meets are a bit scary, from Curly's intense interest to Jon's mercurial eccentricities. Easily distracted by menial work and the discovery of a new skill, David also begins to embrace the Christian faith, hoping it will make his life easier. But of course he still has to face up to the truth about himself.
Filmmaker Alvarez drops hints from the start about what this might be, playing with the eponymous acronym for Child Of God. The tone is warm and a little dry, with comedy coming from Groff's cheerfully hapless performance, which mainly involves reacting to the cynical people David meets. All of the actors are nicely understated, and David's passivity is cleverly contrasted in more aggressive turns from O'Hare, Stoll and Dickey.
The rural setting also adds to the film's offbeat rhythms, with picturesque views and an unpredictable, meandering narrative. Clearly there's a very big issue going on in David's life, but Alvarez tiptoes around it as David seeks answers in others people's solutions but only becomes more empty and confused. The script is peppered with references to labour unions, AA and, most insistently, a paper-thin religion. But without quite quite filling in the gaps, the final scenes feel unnecessarily harsh. Sundance/Edinburgh/Flare
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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