An intriguing if limited-appeal experiment, Marilyn Freeman’s “Group” adopts the vid-shot, multiple-image, improv-based technique of Mike Figgis’ recent features to chronicle a fictive women’s therapy group’s sessions over one 20-week course. Results are utterly convincing — you might easily mistake this for a documentary — if somewhat lacking in dramatic impetus, not to mention commercial viability. Outside fest play, pic looks most likely to find shelf life as a unique spur for discussion in academic circles.
Answering an ad for a “sliding-scale, queer-friendly” therapy group in Olympia, Wash., are nine highly diverse women, ranging from punkish leg-amputee and childhood sexual abuse survivor (Nomy Lamm) to middle-aged conservative Violet (Vicki Hollenberg) and compassionate Christian medico Clansey (Tony Wilkerson). Other notable participants include terminally sarcastic rocker Rita (Lola Rock N’ Rolla) and Grace (Carrie Brownstein of the leading Olympia riot-grrl band Sleater-Kinney).
Not all characters’ reasons for being here are made clear, and at times the willingness of the facilitating therapist (real-life one Ruby Martin) to allow or even encourage bilious, cross-talking intergroup conflict seems perverse. Still, “Group” holds attention in the way that eavesdropping on strangers’ most intimate confessions always does — even if they ultimately lead nowhere in particular.
Those sessions occupy feature’s bulk. Screen is divided into six images, catching not just each current speaker, but also the reactions of fellow group members. While it’s disappointing that Freeman fails to shape their testimonies into a dramatically satisfying arc — she’s after something more quasi-verite, with little closure available at the end — there’s no denying the realistic edge her actors provide.
Much weaker are occasional full-screen, dialogue-free segments that catch each protag in a public arena (cafe, beauty parlor, park, etc.) without delivering the least amount of genuine insight. They seem included solely to vary the aesthetic texture and provide a variable soundtrack of cuts from Sleater-Kinney, the Need, the Gossip, Aislers Set and other alt-rock acts.