The cultures of rural Vermont and urban New York meet, look at each other skeptically and find surprising camaraderie in John O’Brien’s homemade charmer, “Nosey Parker.” Combining the improv tradition of Cassavetes, the neurosis of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and a near-documentary of life in Vermont, O’Brien depicts the invasion of city slickers with an unmistakably human touch and without contrivances or broad comedic devices. Self-distribbed in the northeast, pic richly deserves supportive handling from a distrib who can tap into its natural urban-rural appeal, and should get a comfy life in specialty vid pastures.
O’Brien is best known in American indie circles as a born-and-bred Vermonter who has made whimsical comedies mixing the sweet and sarcastic, all lensed in his tiny hometown of Tunbridge (“Vermont Is for Lovers” and “A Man With a Plan” precede “Nosey Parker” as O’Brien’s “Tunbridge Trilogy”). New pic marks a quantum leap in all departments, from a greater technical mastery to a firmer control of the comedy. Whereas “Man With a Plan” was an amusing but uneven mockumentary about an unlikely coot running for Congress, “Nosey” embraces a much wider range of characters and in a much subtler tone with greater rewards.
First impressions suggest a cornier and more deliberated film than actually emerges, as Gothamite Natalie (Natalie Picoe) narrates how she and psychiatrist hubby Richard (Richard Snee) moved up to this classic New England town to find their dream house. O’Brien’s own love and amusement toward the region are captured in a montage of picturesque shots and witty portraits of locals waving hello in front of their own dream abodes.
Natalie and Richard’s home is a former barn lavishly converted into a three-story house that’s a palace compared with humbler nearby digs. The so-called “Tunbridge Listers” — a trio of oldsters made up of Fred (Fred Tuttle, the hero of “Man With a Plan”), Vida (Vida Martin) and George (George Lyford) — arrive unannounced to appraise the house for local taxes. As George snoops around even the most private rooms, Natalie strikes up a conversation with the group. Richard just wants them to leave.
Paced in stride with the slow life of the region, “Nosey Parker” gradually unfolds as a beautifully textured portrayal of George and Natalie becoming unlikely pals.
O’Brien crafts the course of this relationship with his own unique set of tools: While Natalie simply likes the look of an antique horsefork hanging from the fireplace, George explains it was once used to lift bales of hay into the barn, and O’Brien cuts to archive black-and-white footage documenting George’s account.
At times, O’Brien suddenly veers away from pic’s central story to montages of locals trading outrageous gossip on the phone about the rich New Yorkers — a gag that could have been overplayed yet never is.
Picoe and Snee’s shared scenes are marvelously subtle displays of a modern married couple embroiled in quiet crisis. Picoe also is terrific in her scenes with Lyford (previously a supporting player in the trilogy), who is wonderfully elastic in his ability to play in the moment.
O’Brien once again draws his fellow locals out through improvisation to play with natural warmth and humor in front of the camera.
Lensing and editing, along with a jazzy score played by band the Nosey Parkers, are well suited to the setting. O’Brien’s penchant for archival footage realizes a stunning, deeply emotional payoff at the end. Title derives from the nickname for Matthew Parker, the snooping Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I.