Ashley Shelton stars as a young woman finding her own way in Paul Harrill's quietly assured writing-directing debut.
A delicate study of a young woman extricating herself from the trappings of an outwardly successful life, “Something, Anything” marks a quietly assured feature debut for writer-director Paul Harrill. Marked by an affecting and understated performance from newcomer Ashley Shelton, this lovely drama tends toward the over-emphatic at times, but overall demonstrates a warm, subtle intelligence in the way it captures a person’s growing sense of dislocation from the traditional pressures of marriage, family and career. The likable, low-key result should resonate with discerning indie audiences in VOD play following a brief theatrical release.
An opening montage begins with Peggy (Shelton) shyly accepting the proposal of her handsome go-getter boyfriend, Mark (Bryce Johnson), then whisks her through the usual rites of marriage, and ends with the couple preparing for the birth of their first child. It’s a compact but perfectly detailed sequence, calling our attention to the faintly obligatory tenor of the proceedings (when he pops the question, Mark notes that the two of them are both “ready to settle down”), as well as the half-hearted smile that tugs at the corners of Peggy’s mouth as she goes through the expected motions, her friends and family beaming around her.
But when Peggy suffers a miscarriage, under circumstances that make sadly clear the kind of man she’s married, the trauma of the experience gives her the determination she needs to make the first of many life changes, a symbolic haircut not least among them. When we see Peggy next, she’s separated from Mark and living with her parents. She’s still holding down her successful career as a real-estate agent, but when moral compromise suddenly rears its head (in one of the more obviously scripted turns in Harrill’s script), she decides to abandon the post for a part-time job stacking books at the library.
Harrill’s tautly structured film unfolds over the course of a year, divided into four seasons. During this time, every decision Peggy makes, big or small, is met with befuddlement: Her girlfriends express polite disapproval at the turn her life has taken, while Mark keeps pushing for a reconciliation. But it’s another man’s gesture that speaks to her most profoundly, in the form of a sympathy card she receives from an old classmate, Tom (Linds Edwards) — who, she’s later intrigued to learn, has become a Trappist monk. It’s a twist that underlines the film’s dichotomy between materialism and spirituality, between the pleasures of a comfortably middle-class existence and the rewards of an introspective, examined one.
If that central thematic tension feels a bit pat, “Something, Anything” at least has the wisdom not to offer Peggy (or the audience) any bromides or easy paths to self-realization, even as it gently nudges her in a hopeful new direction. Shelton’s graceful, reserved performance is the picture’s strongest and subtlest asset, never completely spelling out exactly what Peggy (or Margaret, as she begins calling herself) is feeling, but gently suggesting the silent courage it takes to defy the expectations of those around her.
The microbudget production demonstrates a sharp sense of detail, bolstered by d.p. Kunitaro Ohi’s attractive lensing (beautifully capturing the Knoxville, Tenn., locations) and a stirring piano-based score by composer Eric V. Hachikian. Jennifer Lilly’s editing is particularly impressive, not only keeping the film to a concise 88 minutes but also capturing the swift passage of the seasons; a year, we’re meant to understand by the final scene, is over too quickly to be spent on things that don’t matter.