Intimate personal details blend with big questions about the Beyond in “Pincus,” a soul-searching second-feature collaboration between director David Fenster (“Trona”) and thesp David Nordstrom. Nordstrom plays a character named Pincus Fenster opposite the helmer’s real-life dad, Paul, in this moving yet somewhat inchoate drama, which suggests a rough-draft-like, alternate-reality version of how a self-absorbed son copes with being his Parkinson’s-stricken father’s caregiver when he’d really rather be drinking, dating and smoking pot. Missing the fests that might have launched such a personal project, “Pincus” could require a patient city-by-city tour to reach a sufficiently open-minded following.
A tall, handsome actor who refuses to fall back on his leading-man looks, Nordstrom represents a new breed of indie star, the kind who rejects vanity in favor of playing flawed, potentially unlikable characters. It’s a risky approach, since Nordstrom and his similarly inclined peers typically function without the support of a traditional, well-tooled screenplay, and yet, when all goes according to plan, their inspired improvisations might actually reveal something true about ourselves.
In this blend of premeditated moments and documentary-like exploration, Nordstrom earns a fair amount of sympathy out of the gate, as Pincus tends to his ailing father, a dignified gentleman whose evident physical degeneration hasn’t dulled his bitter wit. Making a half-hearted attempt to carry on the family contracting business with assistance from only a short, substance-abusing German builder (captivating amateur Dietmar Franosch, effectively portraying himself), Pincus is hardly the dutiful son; he begrudges every responsibility foisted upon him.
Stuck in South Florida and clearly exasperated by the dead-end demands of such a life, he flails about, in an attempt to grasp some sort of meaning in it all, turning to various new-age beliefs in hope of some enlightenment. Medicine offers no cure for his father’s condition, so Pincus invites acupuncturists and didgeridoo healers to assist. Meanwhile, he discusses hallucinogens with his homeless friend Dietmar and signs up for yoga lessons as a pretext to date the sexy instructor (Christi Idavoy), sparking two semi-developed subplots that weave in and out of the film’s unfocused narrative.
“Pincus” eschews the predictable satisfaction of watching its imperfect protag experience a feel-good transformation. Instead, the film tracks his meandering search for enlightenment in any form, allowing for strange digressions and odd, vaguely metaphorical plunges beneath the surface of nearby marshland, as John Clement Wood’s tonal score (evidently built around the healing sound of crystal bowls) guides the pic’s hazy flow.
Earnest as the director no doubt intends it, the whole exercise is compromised somewhat by that thinly veiled narcissism common in so many recent indie auto-portraits, channeled through an actor who isn’t quite compelling enough to sustain it. And yet, by virtue of all the other cast members, none of whom were professionals, the film possesses something authentic enough to indulge.
Perhaps Pincus is easily upset that he can’t consummate things with the yoga gal because his father needs someone to rub aloe vera between his toes, but the helmer isn’t so shallow. He senses that these real people — natural-born characters filling in as well as any character actor could — have a valuable quality to share, including words of dubious but sincere wisdom from a psychic (Kris Cahill), an “exotic” photographer (Lucky Cole) and, of course, his own father.
Visually, the film makes stunning use of its Everglades environs, and yet, the resolution is below current hi-def standards, missing the incredible sharpness and light that would’ve made Fenster’s own lensing resonate that much more. Like its lead character, the assembly seems restless and uncertain how best to express itself — a quality more charming in poetry than personal essay, and yet, artsy affectations aside, “Pincus” more closely adheres to the latter form.