From Gregg Lachow, director of the aridly experimental "The Wright Brothers," shown at the 1997 L.A. Indie fest, comes a thoughtful and lyrical film that should fly further on the fest circuit, although it would need to find a boldly imaginative distributor to get it off the ground commercially.

From Gregg Lachow, director of the aridly experimental “The Wright Brothers,” shown at the 1997 L.A. Indie fest, comes a thoughtful and lyrical film that should fly further on the fest circuit, although it would need to find a boldly imaginative distributor to get it off the ground commercially.

In the film’s opening moments, three children stand with a camera on a Seattle street corner. They ask passers-by what they “want.” Answers vary from the mundane to the absurd, until a young woman with long dark hair and a 1920s top hat walks by. “Love” she says, and sashays off. The camera follows her, and she becomes the film’s central figure, although Lachow focuses less on narrative than theme, exploring how the trappings of the material world cause people to lose sight of what they truly want and, chiefly, of the realness of love.

What story there is centers on Georgia (Megan Murphy) and Money (Jeff Weatherford), a married couple living in Seattle. The two are growing apart: Money dreams of starting the millennium by shedding all personal property and embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage; Georgia comes to search for an old suitor named V, who years ago wrote her a love note that she still carries around with her. When a male friend of the couple suddenly hangs himself, his girlfriend gives all his worldly possessions to friends. George and Money decide to take the piano. Throughout the film, Money slowly pushes the cumbersome object the 50 blocks toward his house.

As Money treks through Seattle streets — the piano becomes metaphor for struggle in marriage — Georgia, too, labors through the monotony of her day: making breakfast for her demanding 8-year-old son; recording voiceovers for a mattress commercial and, with hilarity, recording the automated voice of a telephone operator.

This is an unusual film in today’s indie environment. Whereas many fledgling filmmakers are skilled in the technical aspects of filmmaking but weak in areas like story, Lachow’s craft comes from patiently building scenes out of the minutiae of daily existence. A Harvard grad with extensive background in experimental theater, writer-helmer seems to have taken to heart Chekhov’s belief that people can be doing the most mundane things while underneath they are destroying one another’s lives; in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, Georgia and Money disagree on the color of the flowers they wish to buy. A choice of white or purple can make or break their marriage, as we see when they drive off and matter-of-factly decide to split up.

Camera compositions are curious, even poorly framed at times, but helmer’s gift is in directing actors and building scenes around physical actions, much like silent filmmakers. Trusting silence, Lachow allows scenes to play out sans musical punctuation. Approach sometimes slows the film down and denies it visual punch (camera movement is spare), but there is always something to appreciate in his scenes.

As Money, Weatherford gives a subtle performance, showing both sureness and vulnerability, while Murphy’s Georgia is dreamy and luminous in a light and spontaneous characterization.

Money Buys Happiness

(DRAMA)

Production

A Hat in Hands production of a WigglyWorld Studios film. Produced by Greg Lachow, Jamie Hook. Directed, written by Gregg Lachow.

Crew

Camera (color), Jamie Hook; editors, Hook, Lachow; music, Jim Ragland; production designers, Blake Hellman, Adam Roffman. Reviewed at the L.A. Independent Film Festival, April 18, 1999. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Georgia ..... Megan Murphy Money ..... Jeff Weatherford Peter ..... John Holyoke Jane ..... Cynthia Whalen Carla ..... Cathy Sutherland Vincent ..... Michael Chick Steve ..... Caveh Zahedi
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