Director Bradley Wigor has converted the lyrical cadence of the Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson teen novel “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra” into a sweet and inspirational film about the transformation of a small town one magical summer.
Sandy Bottom, Wis., is a quaint place where doctors still make house calls, neighbors rally in support of each other — and people don’t “cotton readily to change.”
For trained classical pianist Ingrid Green (Glenne Headly), it’s a place in which she has never really fit. She gave up her career years earlier to move to the town with her dairy farmer husband, Norman (Tom Irwin). Though not regretting the marriage, the outspoken and politically minded Ingrid often finds herself at odds with the locals.
When Norman announces plans to put together a classical concert as opposed to the usual marching band for the town’s Dairy Days, it sets events into motion that stand to disrupt the whole town.
Meanwhile, Ingrid’s daughter Rachel (Madeline Zima), a star violinist who has inherited her mother’s musical talent, worries that she also may have inherited her parents’ eccentricities. She’s already growing away from her best friend, Carol (Tamara Hope), and the prospect of attending a prestigious musical academy won’t help her fit in.
In this film for all ages, Joseph Maurer’s script adequately captures several generations of characters. Backbone of the pic is the traditional feel-good small-town tale, full of the rich details and sense of affinity for characters that make a Keillor-Nilsson project so entertaining. Particularly evocative is Benno Tutter’s lovingly detailed production design, which echoes the small-town sentiments that have long been part of Lake Wobegon territory.
Headly has the most prominent and time-consuming role, which is the film’s one drawback. Her performance is predominantly somber and grating; it’s only toward the end of the piece that we see Ingrid really evolve.
Picking up the pace immensely are Irwin and Zima, who are delightful in their parts, representing the relatively happier side of the Green family.
Jane Powell, in a supporting role as town matriarch Delia Ferguson, Ingrid’s confidant, is like a beacon of sunshine. It’s a shame her part is so limited.
Set decorator Karen McConnel makes sure that every tea cup and saucer evokes small-town charm, a feeling accentuated by Robert Primes’ warm lensing and David Bell’s heartfelt musical score.