Despite the presence of numerous first film indulgences, symbols and pretensions, “The Darien Gap” is a quirky and talented no-budgeter that manages to connect quite effectively. Clearly a very personal study of post-collegiate entropy and emotional blockage, Boston filmmaker Brad Anderson’s feature debut has a nice handcrafted feel and speaks with a distinctive voice that could translate into favorable response on the college and specialized twentysomething circuit.
In outline, the picture sounds like a compendium of cliches about the slacker generation, centering upon a penniless, do-nothing, excuse-ridden hero who, as a spiritual descendant of the unpublished poets and novelists of yesteryear, finds artistic release in videotaping his buddies mouthing off about their problems and lack of prospects.
Lyn Vaus (played by an actor of the same name) still feels victimized by his parents’ divorce 20 years before, likens the idea of commitment to mental institutions, and halfheartedly plans to go to Patagonia, at the tip of South America, in search of a giant sloth that, hint hint, just might be his animal world counterpart. The only question is how to get through the Darien Gap, an 80 -mile swamp in Panama that interrupts the road.
Disturbing his ambitious plans, however, is a new woman in his life. Polly Joy (Sandi Carroll), a designer of “mortal coil” hats, is vivacious, offbeat, doesn’t mind paying for Lyn’s drinks and seems intrigued by the challenge of reforming him.
Using a smoothly executed time-jumping editing scheme, Anderson records the arc of the couple’s relationship while working in the video bull sessions, home movies of Lyn’s (actually Anderson’s) idyllic Connecticut childhood before the divorce, his problems with his distant father, and a sampling of local Boston bands. The freshman English class symbolism still protrudes, but the writer-director’s even-handed, unemphatic use of it mutes its importance, allowing the pleasing effect of the overall mosaic to dominate and absorb the occasionally juvenile details.
It’s a small film, but one that has no trouble saying exactly what it wants to say and accomplishing everything it sets out to do, which makes Anderson a talent to keep an eye on.