This twentysomething road movie ventures off the beaten track for sure, both in literal — via slick wilderness lensing — and figurative ways. But coyly experimental aspects will limit exposure to curious college auds and American indie-focus fests. Pic was launched with unspoolings at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive.
Clever opening conveys recent bummers in the lives of 26-year-old L.A. protags via select motifs and answering-machine messages. Wiseacre Robert has just been ejected from both job and apartment; earnest Michael’s g.f. professes love for an older man; social worker Wendy is feeling vulnerable after a juvenile’s violent outburst. Since friends shared Colorado childhoods, the trio impulsively decide to “leave bad luck in the rearview mirror” by taking off on a camping expedition.
Their pop-ironic rapport is engaging at first, all the more so for its refreshingly casual depiction of young male-female friendships sans sexual tension. But discussions of love, identity and philosophy soon turn self-consciously literary. Worse, screenplay posits the landscape and ocean as additional “characters” who (in titles) bemoan their ancient separation when not waxing philosophic or planting thoughts in the heads of human figures.
Novelty of this conceit soon wears didactically thin. By the time actors deliver lengthy monologues on solo hiking treks, pic feels like a collegiate writing project foisted upon the filmmakers’ backpacking holiday. An abrupt non-ending exacerbates sense of a short-subject concept needlessly stretched to feature length.
Performers are attractive and affable, but their natural rhythms stall as verbiage piles up. Use of songs by Ethyl Meatplow and other bands is judicious, editing lively. Crisp, handsome photography, including underwater footage shot in barrier reefs near Belize, sports some impressive flourishes.
Director P. James Keitel and scenarist D. Scott Hessels won attention for prior vidshorts under production monicker Damaged Californians. If their grasp of narrative cinema doesn’t develop past this first feature, they can take heart in what looks like a natural career path toward nature docs.