The Guatemalan Handshake

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Were there a middle-American cognate for the Brit adjective twee, it would sum up the feature debut of Rohal, which won a Slamdance special jury prize. Set in Three Mile Island’s shadow in rural Pennsylvania, the comedy is so low-key that if it dropped an octave it would fall off the screen.

After her oddball beau (Oldham) goes missing, a pregnant free spirit and demolition-derby enthusiast (Scullin) jettisons her large family to move in with her erstwhile fiancé’s eccentric father (Byrnes) and 10-year-old best friend (Haywood). Her sister fixes her up with a horny loser (Schreiber) so clueless he buys a stolen 1970s electric-powered Comuta-Car, then swaps it for a dilapidated school bus. As if things weren’t surreal enough, the ghosts of a toy poodle and its disconsolate owner (Kennedy) hover nearby.

Fortunately the behavioral tics are mitigated by Richie Sherman’s seductive cinematography. It’s rare for a microbudgeted indie to be shot in widescreen 35mm, but Rohal began squirreling away stock ends a year prior to shooting. The resulting ambience evokes those summer vacations spent visiting country relations, or driving the side roads off interstates: swimming holes and carnivals; neighbors who know everything about each other but little beyond their turf; and lives that sprawl languidly toward a hazy future, until death arrives unannounced.

Release details

Cast and crew

Director: Todd Graff
Cast: Franck Saint-Cast
Will Oldham
Sheila Allen
Chris Haywood
Ken Russell
Nancy Schreiber
Kathleen Kennedy
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