Loose-limbed character study “Loves Her Gun” follows a young woman down to Austin, Texas, in the aftermath of a traumatic incident up north. This semi-improvised sophomore feature from Geoff Marslett (whose 2010 feature, “Mars,” was an offbeat animation) arrives at a destination that may strike some as too pat, but getting there is nonetheless consistently interesting. Opening Jan. 10 at New York’s Cinema Village, it will likely make its gradual way toward wider audiences after modest theatrical impact.
Not particularly tied down by sporadic employment, let alone her jerk b.f., Johnny (producer/co-scenarist Geoff Lerer), Allie (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is walking home from a Brooklyn club show when she’s robbed and beaten — oddly, by two men wearing business suits and animal masks. (This introduces a surreal element the pic never follows up on.) She’s sufficiently traumatized to impulsively leave town the next day, riding south with the wacky “karate rock” band she’d seen the night before; its members including likably low-key leader Clark (Francisco Barreiro, from Jorge Michel Grau’s “We Are What We Are”) and her old friend Zoe (Ashley Rae Spillers). When the van arrives home in Austin, she stays at Zoe’s, then shifts over to Clark’s place, seemingly oblivious (though no one else is) to his infatuation with her.
A casual meeting gets Allie a job as an assistant to landscaper Sarah (Melissa Hideko Bisagni), and soon it looks like she’s got a decent new life tentatively carved out for herself. But she’s still plagued by anxiety and sleeplessness, the residue (along with one major shiner) of her mugging. Sarah thinks Allie might feel more secure owning a gun, which doesn’t seem as strange an idea in Texas as it might have in New York. After enjoying some target practice, Allie takes the plunge and purchases her own revolver.
Few viewers will be surprised when it turns out that weapons possession is an ill-fated choice for our heroine. Indeed, “Loves Her Gun” might have done well to sidestep a denouement that feels too inevitable and melodramatic, given the laid-back, slice-of-life flavor of nearly everything preceding it. Also, Dunn invests Allie with such self-confident authority that we need more backstory than we get for the character’s final, tragic vulnerability to carry sufficient weight — or for the variably flighty, reckless and insensitive behavior she’s demonstrated earlier to be more revealing than mystifying.
As a result, “Loves Her Gun” ultimately doesn’t quite cohere as one part slackerish social observation in a nicely turned mumblecore mode, and one part cautionary psychological thriller about the dangers of treating fear with a loaded weapon. But the characters, down to the bit parts, are all intriguing and feel authentic to the Austin milieu, their idiosyncrasies taken for granted. (The soundtrack, naturally, is filled with cuts by local bands.)
The production is accomplished on all tech levels, with a rangy feel to Amy Bench’s wide-format lensing, while Ian Holden’s editing belies a fairly tight scene-to-scene narrative construction.