“Shady Grove” isn’t the first U.S. indie feature to get upgraded from a shortform school project simply because it could be; and it certainly isn’t the first such pic wherein one periodically wonders whether what’s on-screen is any more compelling than the wall that surrounds it. Given that by now said efforts are no longer notable simply for having been contrived on a near-zero budget, “Shady Grove” will be lucky to scare up a few more dates at regional fests.
Plot is barely enough to sustain a Bazooka Joe comic strip, though neophyte helmer Christian Moore’s stated intention was to realize a filmic “depiction of a blues song.” Thus the action (to use the term liberally) is very much your basic “My baby done left me/I followed her to the big city/She wouldn’t have me/Then she reconsidered.” Not a flattering outline, that, but then (despite various blues tunes soundtracked) “Shady Grove” seems determined to be as un-eventful and flavorless as possible.
The straying g.f. is Louise (co scenarist Amy Grappell), and no wonder — Zak (Richard Mather) is content to sit around his trailer drinking beer and strumming guitar when not kicking cans down the road or working as a dishwasher. Fed up, Louise announces she’ll visit a friend in NYC with or without him. Zak misses the plane, but pursues via Greyhound. Locating her at the Chelsea Hotel, Zak is spurned, kicks around a bit with two locals (one of whom delivers pic’s deepest line: “You gotta go after your dreams, man. When fish float, they die.”), then knocks on Louise’s door one more time.
This pseudo rootsy “blues” odys-sey features post collegiate urban hepster leads (he with goateed slacker demeanor, she with retro loungewear and music) who can’t even be bothered to rustle up Texas accents. The watered-down Jim Jarmusch attitude also requires lamely “eccentric” supporting characters, most notably a mysteri-ous “old gypsy cowboy” who turns up everywhere and says things like, “But I never forgot Maria, the beautiful senorita I left behind” in pointless voiceover. No satire seems intended, alas.
Nothing ruffles the pristine dull-ness of the enterprise, which started out as a Texas enclosed university short, then unfortunately got big ideas and went to NYC. Everything “Shady Grove” doesn’t say in five minutes, it doesn’t say over and over again at an hour and a quarter. For the record, B&W photography is decent, dialogue recording rough at times, other tech aspects par for the course.