You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jess + Moss

Pic will depend on enthusiastic word of mouth and critical applause to win over distribs and buyers specializing in art cinema gems for upscale markets.

With: Sarah Hagan, Austin Vickers, Haley Strode.

Lazy days of a Southern summer seeped in kudzu collide with two young people’s awareness of a disintegrated family in Clay Jeter’s impressionist film, “Jess + Moss.” Ideally situated in Sundance’s New Frontier section (though, in an earlier more adventurous time for this fest, it would have been a dramatic competish entry) and certain to be lost in Berlin’s sprawling Generation section, pic will depend on enthusiastic word of mouth and critical applause to win over distribs and buyers specializing in art cinema gems for upscale markets.

Jess (Sarah Hagan) is a girl in her mid-teens who may or may not be sister to younger lad Moss (Austin Vickers), both of whom find themselves at a derelict farm somewhere in the South (actually, the outskirts of Murray, Kentucky). Jess is constantly returning to tape-recordings made by her mother before she abandoned her family for parts unknown, the tapes meant in part as an explanation of her decision to break away from a domestic life.

Inside the main building, collapsing into itself like a rotting gingerbread house (Gregory Grover’s production design is remarkable), Jess tries to set up little games, such as demanding that Moss sit at the little kids’ dinner table, even though there are just the two of them. In scenes like these or in the many wanderlust sequences outdoors, Jeter’s film takes on the quality of a sustained dream, as if the theatrical conceits of Jean Genet were married to a children’s story retold via William Faulker’s Southern brand of stream of consciousness.

The film suspends and disregards logic for an atmosphere caught between past and present, and Jeter cinematically conveys the feeling of remembrances of times past while situating his young people in a present that celebrates summer as a time of wiling away the hours, doing nothing in particular. Layered on top of the small celebrations (including a lovely sequence with evening fireworks) is a palpable dread that these kids have been utterly abandoned and forced to fend for themselves, trying in their own ways to make sense of their predicament, and unsure if they can.

Hagan and Vickers enjoy playing up the moments when the pair bicker with each other, as Jess always tries to lord it over the shorter and younger Moss. But Jeter is careful to nudge these good young actors away from any psychological intent, leaving it open to the audience to interpret what these characters’ actual fates may be.

Will Basanta’s and Jeter’s lovingly rendered Super 16 cinematography plays a crucial role in conveying this magical place’s timeless quality; add a period look to the kids’ clothing and take away a few props, and we may as well be in a time setting a century ago. The pic also brilliantly uses specific places (the house, the kudzu growth) as visual symbols which are nevertheless thoroughly grounded in reality. Mark Stoeckinger’s sound work is astonishing and densely structured, with a repeated use of the Debbie Reynolds’ tune “Tammy’s in Love” as a weird kind of anthem.

Popular on Variety

Jess + Moss

Production: A Blood River Pictures presentation in association with Love Streams Agnes B. Prods./Liquid Crystal Prods. Produced by Clay Jeter, Brian Harstine, Will Basanta, Isaac Hagy. Executive producers, Debra Jeter, Norman Jeter, Cliff Coleman, Bill Fletcher, John Rowley, Jason Michael Berman, Harley Tat, Kevin Iwashina, David Gelb. Co-producer, Adam Childress. Directed by Clay Jeter. Screenplay, Clay Jeter, Debra Jeter, Will Basanta, Isaac Hagy

Crew: Camera (color, Super 16-to-DV), Basanta, Clay Jeter; editor, Hagy; production designer, Gregory Grover; sound (stereo), Mark Stoeckinger; associate producers, Stoeckinger, April Kimble, Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Nikki Jeter Wilbanks. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier), Jan. 23, 2011. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Generation.) Running time: 82 MIN.

Cast: With: Sarah Hagan, Austin Vickers, Haley Strode.

More Scene

  • Chrissy TeigenBaby2Baby Gala, Arrivals, 3Labs, Los

    Chrissy Teigen Receives Giving Tree Award at 2019 Baby2Baby Gala

    Chrissy Teigen accepted the “Giving Tree” Award at the 2019 Baby2Baby Gala on Saturday with a speech chockful of her trademark humor and humility. Upon receiving a standing ovation, Teigen laughingly told the star-studded crowd to sit down, joking that she is more accustomed to receiving an accolade for “Best Titties” at the Spike TV [...]

  • Co-host Rita Moreno performs on stage

    Rita Moreno's Role in New 'West Side Story' Is More Than a Cameo: 'It’s a Real Part'

    During her live show, “An Evening with Rita Moreno,” Saturday night, Rita Moreno told the audience she will have a “real” role in next December’s “West Side Story” remake, which recently wrapped shooting, and that she initially had concerns about the film’s production. “At first, it was interesting when I heard there were rumors that [...]

  • Charlize Theron American Cinematheque

    Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane Roast Charlize Theron During Bawdy American Cinematheque Ceremony

    As Charlize Theron accepted the 33rd American Cinematheque honor at the Beverly Hilton on Friday night, the atmosphere more resembled a roast than a reverential evening celebrating the cinematic achievements of an Oscar winner. Presenters like Seth Rogen, Kristen Stewart and Seth MacFarlane shared bawdy jokes and reveals about what it’s really like working with [...]

  • Katie Couric

    Katie Couric Says Matt Lauer 'Ultimately Turned Out to Be Two Very Different People'

    Katie Couric discussed Matt Lauer, the Me Too movement and female leadership in business at the Dress for Success annual Women Who Inspire breakfast in New York City on Wednesday. Couric, who spoke during a fireside chat at the nonprofit’s female empowerment event, was asked about Lauer’s ouster from the “Today” show, and the many [...]

  • Tina Turner Musical

    Oprah Winfrey Joins Tina Turner for the Opening Night of 'Tina' Musical on Broadway

    On Thursday night in New York City, Tina Turner joined the ranks of Cher, Donna Summer, the Temptations and the Jersey Boys — Carole King, too — baptized, as it were, in the disco inferno of a high-powered Broadway jukebox. “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” joins a steady stream of bio-musicals bent on squeezing, often [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content