An outlaw-lovers-on-the-run saga in which the leads don’t commit a crime, fall in love or ever hit the road, “River of Grass” works much better as a jokey , theoretical piece of genre revisionism than as a real movie. A modern, ennui-laden film noir turned inside out and filmed in bright colors under the Florida sun, this ultra-low-budget indie will appeal exclusively to film academics and genre specialists.
New York writer-director Kelly Reichardt returned to her native area of suburban Miami to make her first feature, and she clearly knows her way around the neighborhood as well as around film conventions.
Unfortunately, the energy working on the leading characters and upon the story itself is almost entirely negative. A terminally bored housewife and mother whose husband is perpetually absent, Cozy (Lisa Bowman) doesn’t know what to do with herself until she meets Lee (Larry Fessenden), an entropy specialist who still lives at home at 29 and whose ambition is to “just drink.”
Lee has come into possession of a gun found on the road, one lost by Cozy’s detective (and jazz drummer) father, Jimmy (Dick Russell). When Cozy accidentally fires the gun, she and Lee believe they’ve shot a black man and bolt to a motel to decide what to do.
Without as much as pocket change between them, the pair can’t even get on the tollroad to leave town, and with the perfect opportunity to become wild, even legendary outlaws on the lam, they can’t get it together to do a thing.
Reichardt and her collaborators have devised a vivid color scheme for the film, and this, in combination with the rigor involved in working out the anti-plot, will give certain film-wise viewers something to latch onto.
Bowman and Fessenden (who also edited) occasionally generate some deadpan humor but generally make for lackluster centers of attention. Russell gives the father, desperate to recover his weapon, some welcome style and pizazz.
With the tiniest of budgets at their disposal, filmmakers have gotten a reasonably good-looking picture on the screen.