Review: ‘The Darien Gap’

Despite the presence of numerous first-film indulgences, symbols and pretensions, "The Darien Gap" is a quirky and talented no-budgeter that manages to connect quite effectively. Clearly a very personal study of post-collegiate inertia and emotional blockage, Boston filmmaker Brad Anderson's feature debut has a nice handcrafted feel and speaks with a distinctive voice that could translate into favorable response on the college and specialized twentysomething circuit.

Despite the presence of numerous first-film indulgences, symbols and pretensions, “The Darien Gap” is a quirky and talented no-budgeter that manages to connect quite effectively. Clearly a very personal study of post-collegiate inertia and emotional blockage, Boston filmmaker Brad Anderson’s feature debut has a nice handcrafted feel and speaks with a distinctive voice that could translate into favorable response on the college and specialized twentysomething circuit.

In outline, the picture sounds like a compendium of cliches about the slacker generation, centering upon a penniless, do-nothing, excuse-ridden hero who, as a spiritual descendant of the unpublished poets and novelists of yesteryear, finds artistic release in videotaping his buddies mouthing off about their problems and lack of prospects.

Lyn Vaus (played by an actor of the same name) still feels victimized by his parents’ divorce 20 years before, likens the idea of commitment to being confined to a mental institution and halfheartedly plans to go to Patagonia, at the tip of South America, in search of a giant sloth that, hint, hint, just might be his animal-world counterpart. The only question is how to get through the Darien Gap, an 80-mile swamp in Panama that interrupts the road.

Disturbing his ambitious plans, however, is a new woman in his life. Polly Joy (Sandi Carroll), a successful designer of “mortal coil” hats, is vivacious, offbeat, doesn’t mind paying for Lyn’s drinks and for some reason, seems intrigued by the challenge of reforming him.

Using a smoothly executed time-jumping editing scheme, Anderson records the arc of the couple’s relationship while working in the video bull sessions, home movies of Lyn’s (actually Anderson’s) idyllic Connecticut childhood before the divorce, his problems with his distant father and a sampling of local Boston bands. The freshman English class symbolism still protrudes, but the writer-director’s evenhanded, unemphatic use of it mutes its importance, allowing the pleasing effect of the overall mosaic to dominate and absorb the occasionally juvenile details.

Similarly, both the laid-back, unassertive performance of Vaus and the more peppery, quicksilver work of his co-star, Carroll, blend effectively into the film’s variegated fabric. It’s a small film, but one that has no trouble saying exactly what it wants to say and accomplishing everything it sets out to do; it marks Anderson as a talent to keep an eye on.

The Darien Gap

Production

A Nomad Films presentation in association with Robbins Entertainment Group. Produced by Jim Taylor, Brad Anderson. Directed, written, edited by Brad Anderson.

Crew

Camera (Cine Lab color, 16mm), Peter Krieger; music, Gareth Kear; set decoration, Warren Curtis, Deloris Gavin; sound, Steve Izzi, John Garrett, Coll Anderson; additional camera, T.W. Li. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 25, 1996. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Lyn Vaus ... Lyn Vaus Polly Joy ... Sandi Carroll
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