So many new Amerindies trade in pseudo-“grittiness” that something as genuinely unpretentious as Chris Brown’s debut feature seems an anomaly. Solid, low-key study of three lower-middle-class Northern California women does the slice-of-life thing without resorting to contrivance or to over-plowed, Cassavetes-ish “improvisational” turf. Pic’s modest virtues, however, are ones with little current marketplace value outside the fest circuit.
Condo projects, Walgreen’s and fast-food emporiums are fast replacing the vineyards and mom & pop shops that once set life’s pace in Livermore. In their own way, each of pic’s blood-tied protagonists — all living, amiably enough, under one roof — are feeling the squeeze. Jade’s (Robin Huntington) 50th birthday finds her facing tough decisions about the business she runs from home, a van-shuttle service for the indigent. Should she cut back on staff, get a chain-store side job, or fold the firm? Twentysomething daughter Sean (Jill Pixley) works at a diner; that income won’t go far toward eternally delayed college plans, and her car is on its last legs. Her antsiness is further stoked by the return of a girlhood pal who suggests they get an apartment together.
While running errands, grandma Gina (Colette Keen) suffers a stroke — not a serious one, but nevertheless a warning that this crusty, chain-smoking widow is reluctant to heed. She doesn’t want to end life treated like “some frail old lady,” so she tries to keep the bad news to herself.
Director-scenarist Brown opens up what might have been a claustrophobic domestic drama in casual yet sharp fashion, with central characters attending a rodeo, going to work, and so on. Pic doesn’t make a big deal about their lack of current male companionship, etching a credible community wherein single women continually pool economic and other resources. As Jade puts it, they’re people who often feel “backed into situations” they wouldn’t have chosen, then make do anyway.
Script, like the well-gauged perfs, tells us what we need to know about these folk without passing judgment or manipulating our responses. Ending could’ve been punched up a tad, however.
Production is cleanly handled on no doubt limited means; some awkward post-synching in exterior sequences rates as sole tech flaw. Scratchy 1930s jug-band-type recordings provide idiosyncratic soundtrack fodder.