A single mom negotiates the shores of loneliness while her adolescent sons discover their sexual urges in Matthew Petock’s unpretentious debut, “A Little Closer.” Solidly made with a minuscule budget whose limitations are ably overcome, the pic is obviously made from the heart, covering well-worn themes with more honesty than originality, generating a deja-vu feel that rarely diminishes. Perhaps best seen as a sort of well-done thesis film which proves the young helmer’s capabilities, “A Little Closer” is likely to see more traffic over streaming sites than in cinemas, though smaller fests may offer a welcome.
Petock sets his story in rural Virginia, the kind of place where connections between strangers are limited. Sheryl (Sayra Player) tries hard to make ends meet as a house cleaner, struggling to afford a home she knows will never meet even her most modest desires. Between work and raising two sons on her own, she barely has time for herself, though her yearning for companionship leads her to try out a depressingly bleak community mixer each week.
Older son Marc (Parker Lutz), 15, works a summer job at a car lot where an older colleague gives him tips on how to get a girl into bed. Meanwhile, 11-year-old brother Stephen (Eric Baskerville) is at summer school, since Sayra can’t afford any other option to keep him busy. Both boys are coping with chaos-inducing hormones: Marc gets a g.f. (Catherine Andre) who he pressures into “proving she loves him,” and Stephen has a crush on teacher Ms. Moss (Stephanie Parrott).
Petock and his flawless cast get everything right: Sheryl’s nervous ticks while hoping for a decent-looking guy to ask her to dance, her exhaustion from bearing so much responsibility alone, and her frazzled but loving rapport with her kids. The boys are age-appropriate, with Marc completely in thrall to his testosterone while younger Stephen is on the cusp between innocence and knowledge. Dialogue is real, situations are believable, and the pic nicely captures the circumscribed options available to nontraditional families in this kind of community.
A few scenes are memorable, foremost a series of extended closeups of Sayra dancing with a guy (Chris Kies) she meets at the mixer. The tight shots and Player’s complex emotions, all stemming from the overwhelming sensation of being held close, baldly convey her loneliness and need for physical contact. Despite other nice moments, there’s just not enough here to make the pic stand out from other sincere slice-of-life indie productions. Modesty is no fault, yet in a crowded market, viewers are likely to demand more than a mirror of reality.
Visuals are sharp, benefiting from confident handheld lensing by Daniel Patrick Carbone and a proper appreciation for natural light. Editing, too, also by Petock, is sure-handed, nicely overlaying conversations onto silent montages.