A playwright is shaken out of his creative funk in unexpected ways during a visit to his old neighborhood in the navel-gazing indie drama “Collaborator.” The feature writing-directing debut of U.S.-born, Canada-based thesp Martin Donovan, best known as helmer Hal Hartley’s iconic actor, pic mixes in a surfeit of inchoate issues and a tad too much quirk to satisfy far beyond the fest circuit and indie showcases, but nevertheless shows him to be a filmmaker of ambition.
Reeling from the bad reviews for his latest Broadway play, dramatist Robert Longfellow (Donovan, understated) returns to his birthplace in suburban Los Angeles, ostensibly to visit his aging mother (Katherine Helmand), but in reality to flirt with the possibility of script-doctoring bad genre films and collaborating with beautiful actress Emma Stiles (Olivia Williams), a former flame. But these vaguely formed plans get thrown for a loop when nutcase neighbor Gus (David Morse, aw-shucks showy) holds him hostage at gunpoint.
As police surround the house and the 24-hour news cycle pries into their private lives, the two childhood acquaintances settle in for a long night of verbal dueling fueled by an ample supply of beer and pot. Meanwhile, their womenfolk, including Emma, Gus’ mother (Eileen Ryan) and Robert’s wife (Melissa Auf der Maur) watch from afar, occasionally interrupting the men’s prolix proceedings — some of which takes the form of theater improv exercises — with telephone calls.
Donovan’s screenplay touches on a host of issues, from the creative process to the cult of celebrity to the media saturation of American lives, with passing references to the baleful influence of paternal expectations and thoughts about love and commitment. Longfellow’s last-minute polemic about American aggression in world affairs almost seems to come out of left field.
Largely a showcase for Donovan’s self-absorbed, lefty intellectual and Morse’s mentally limited, unquestioningly patriotic ex-con, the stylized thesping falls somewhere between heightened naturalism and the line delivery of Hartley films.
Assembly is attractive albeit not particularly exciting, with Julie Kirkwood’s smooth lensing leading the pro tech package.