The wordy title — and, at times, equally overwritten script — notwithstanding, William Moreing’s “Joyful Partaking in the Sorrows of Life” is a lovely, minor-key exercise on a major subject: the disappointments of life and our fundamental aloneness in the world. Structured as a day in the lives of the residents of a single suburban block in a Pacific Northwest neighborhood pic is a perceptive look at our insecurities. While pic offers few reassuring pats on the back to tell us everything is going to be all right, it delivers an ultimately hopeful outlook, and deserves the attention of audiences and festivals still willing to look at truly independent work.
“Joyful Partaking” crosscuts between four major subplots: a suicidal, former TV weatherman (John Procaccino), whose young son died in a freak snowstorm the weatherman failed to forecast; a yuppie-ish couple (Jennifer Sue Johnson and Andrew Heffernan) whose lives are turned upside-down when the man’s mother (Elizabeth Huddle) suffers a stroke and moves in with them; a middle-aged couple (Kit Harris and George Catalano) where the husband — a loud-mouthed, abusive bigot — has just been laid off from his factory job; and a lonely woman (Jane Jones), whose sole source of companionship in life is her pampered pooch. Logistically, these people are all neighbors, but pic doesn’t place them in each others’ paths in some succinct, preconfigured pattern. Rather, Moreing establishes an organic, Altmanesque feel: letting the film go wherever it feels like it needs to.
Still the first-time helmer stumbles at times, playing parts of the pic too broadly — the woman-and-dog subplot has a sitcom feel that undercuts some of the pic’s dark currents. Also, some of the performances are over the top.
At its best, though, “Joyful Partaking” shifts seamlessly from comedy to tragedy and back again, and Moreing and gifted cinematographer, Jan Kipling Andersonmanufacture some strikingly surrealistic tableaus — an autistic man-child (Nan Hu) going through the motions of eating a meal, even though nothing is there; an elderly woman collapsed and semi-paralyzed in her own backyard, her cries of help droned out by the sounds of life passing by.
At the center of it all is Procaccino, playing a man whose very job it was to predict the future and who failed at that task. The actor projects such muted despair, such eloquent confusion at the life’s unpredictability, that he becomes the trunk from which everything else in the film branches out. In Procaccino’s final scene, in which he is literally and emotionally naked, the movie soars.