Imagine “The Bucket List” reconceived as a New York art installation, with some free-love shenanigans thrown in for good measure, and you’ll have a faint idea of what to expect from actress Amy Redford’s uneven but occasionally entrancing filmmaking debut, “The Guitar.” A moodily offbeat chamber piece carried along by Saffron Burrows’ delicate, somber performance as a dying woman who locks herself away to spend her final month in luxurious isolation, this beguiling wisp of a film charms and maddens in equal measure, and as such boasts commercial prospects roughly in line with those of the average street musician.
Sporting a flawless American accent, British thesp Burrows plays the beautiful but preternaturally sad Melody Wilder (whose name rather too neatly underscores the film’s title). Melody has the misfortune to be fired from her job, dumped by her boyfriend and told by her doctor (Janeane Garofalo, making a brief appearance) that she has inoperable throat cancer — all on the same day.
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With a month or so left to live, Melody decides to go out quietly but in style. She rents an enormous Gotham loft and fills it with high-end furniture and knick-knacks, brazenly ordering from catalogs with an arsenal of credit cards by her side. Despite its mostly measured tone, the film gleefully conveys a sense of the endless, extravagant possibilities available when time is short and money ceases to be an object.
Though Melody improbably has no friends or family, her lifestyle arouses the attention of pizza delivery girl Cookie (Paz de la Huerta) and furniture delivery man Rosco (Isaach de Bankole), who are both drawn to this strange, introverted woman and her habit of walking around the loft in varying states of undress. In subsequent scenes of lovemaking, the loft is recast as a sort of hedonist’s paradise, all candlelight and exotic linens; titillating aspects aside, this episode reps the film’s silliest conceit, and auds who haven’t taken to Melody yet will check out at this point.
Melody doesn’t connect to people as much as she does to her most extreme purchase — a red electric guitar she’s longed for since her unhappy childhood (glimpsed in brief but distracting flashbacks). Like her heroine, Redford seems most comfortable with solitude; as Melody teaches herself to play, experimenting with chords and strums, the film becomes a simple, eloquent portrait of a person searching for and ultimately finding her voice. Helmer is aided in no small measure by a lovely, vanity-free perf by Burrows, who tamps down her natural radiance, speaks in a hoarse voice and effortlessly carries “The Guitar” through its long stretches of silence.
Pic is on less solid ground in the outside world; in particular, the gloomy interactions of the first reel play (perhaps deliberately) like scenes from a weirdly stilted horror film. Later, Amos Poe’s script abruptly jerks Melody out of her dreamlike stasis, with a contrivance that forces her to again take stock of her life and the whimsies of fate.
Bobby Bukowski’s versatile camerawork turns the loft’s wide-open, high-ceilinged space into a natural visual metaphor for protag’s newfound sense of freedom. Other tech credits are unobtrusively pro.