While attempting to visualize an artist’s inner struggles may be inherently Quixotic, it’s hard not to admire tyro writer-director-animator Richard Power Hoffmann’s “Invisible Mountains,” which at least tries to climb this peak. Hoffmann’s work as an animator brings his painter-protag’s to life on screen, though the concept goes only so far, and without an interesting drama to accompany it, pic has the stuff of a lavish short rather than a full-blown feature. A natural for the festival trail, this art film will find a much harder time getting inside arthouses.
Fledgling painter Paul (Shane Callahan) has dropped out of art college to live at home with his family in suburban Philadelphia, though he tells everyone around him he’s merely taking a leave of absence. At the same time, Paul has been handed a commission from one of his mom’s friends, and he appears to be frozen with what could be termed painter’s block. Pic interlaces the story with abstract and elliptical expressions of Paul’s creative juices, charging the early minutes with a distinct sensibility with faint similarities to Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life.”
Hoffmann cleverly transitions from the family dinner table conversation — rudely jolted by the artist’s incoherently angry brother Chuck (Lee Matthews) — to Paul’s painterly p.o.v., as his ideas begin to find form in the air, his hands drawing animated, squiggly lines, bringing any object he ponders — buildings, clouds, everyday objects — to pulsating life. It’s by far the film’s most fascinating aspect.
Hoffmann’s evocative if simple, animated layerings over live-action images is contradicted by the narrative. If Paul is as blocked as the drama suggests, he surely doesn’t seem so when his mind is on fire.
In between mental wanderings, Paul feels mounting pressure to deliver a canvas, and his mom (Susan Moses) adds to the stress by making him find a day job. All too easily, Paul lands one as a dishwasher in a tiny restaurant run by chef and old friend Max (Sam Schneider), who gets sloshed every night with his co-workers. When Sam (Myra Bazell), one of the restaurant servers and a performing poet, invites Paul to collaborate on a project, his inability to do so makes him less a character fit for sympathy, and more of a wimp.
Callahan doesn’t help matters with a neutral performance that flirts with being empty-headed. Bazell’s Sam is effervescently hip. Neither the ending epiphany sequence nor a repeated motif of a dream involving Paul’s grandmother, convinces in the least.
Integration of quaintly hand-drawn drawn animation with action holds potential for more interesting films from Hoffmann. Co-composers Pete Tramo (who also did the complex sound) and Ramsay Rawson contribute mightily.