Fortune favors the easy-adapters in nature; in certain American film-festival circles, however, apparently the easiest-to-digest indiequirk is what ends up on top. The winner of the top jury prize and the audience award at last year’s SXSW cinematic hoedown, Robbie Pickering’s road dramedy couldn’t be more clumsily obvious in its narrative setup or more flavorless in its lo-fi Americana tone. Really, this was the competition’s fittest survivor? Its edge can be chalked up to a single weapon in its arsenal: Rachael Harris.
A diminutive comic dynamo usually relegated to the periphery—she was Ed Helms’s caricaturish ballbuster of a fiancée in The Hangover—Harris is one of those MVP character actors who’s both omnipresent and severely underused. What she does with Linda, the film’s childless, devoutly Christian heroine, is practically miraculous: She suggests a cloistered, frustrated existence without ever mocking the character’s religion, roots or emotional neediness. The plot itself—involving a quest and an escaped convict (O’Leary)—is almost incidental compared with the humanizing hat trick Harris pulls off. Which makes Pickering’s less-than-steady grasp of filmmaking that much more exasperating: Only a great actor could deliver the sort of understated, perfectly calibrated reaction shot she gives during a late-stage revelation—and only a complete chowderhead would obscure it via light reflecting off her glasses. That’s not clever character commentary; that’s incompetence. This writer-director still has some evolving to do.
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