Film Review: ‘Colewell’

A rural postal worker faces the unwanted end of her comfortable circumstances in writer-director Tom Quinn’s sensitive, serene drama.

Tom Quinn
Karen Allen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Hannah Gross, Malachy Cleary, Daniel Jenkins, Craig Walker.

1 hour 19 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9275046/

Populated by characters who rarely raise their voices, much less engage in anything that might qualify as “action,” “Colewell” is a character study that’s almost too subdued for its own good. Fortunately, writer-director Tom Quinn has a keen eye for telling details, as well as a superb lead actress in Karen Allen, who stars as a postal worker facing an uncertain future. In an era of louder-than-loud tentpoles, it’s not clear that this small-scale drama has steadier prospects than its protagonist. Discerning audiences, however, should warm to its understated charms, should it be picked up from among the titles in the San Francisco Int’l Film Festival’s acquisitions-oriented “Launch” section, where it made its world premiere.

In the tiny enclave of Colewell, Penn., Nora (Allen) follows a daily routine of making coffee, feeding her chickens, cooking eggs, and opening the post office that she oversees — and which is located, conveniently, in her own house. It’s a gathering place for the area’s locals, and provides a sense of purpose and community for Nora, a solitary woman whose only nominal friend is Charles (Kevin J. O’Connor), the colleague who delivers mail to her each day, and for his trouble — and convivial chitchat — always departs with a few freshly laid eggs.

“Colewell” depicts all of this with a patient hand, buoyed by cinematographer Paul Yee’s inviting visuals and Dara Taylor’s melancholy score. The director’s delicate aesthetics are in tune with his plotting, which reveals Nora through her day-to-day habits and sporadic interactions, as well as via the wistful sorrow residing in her eyes. Such emotion is soon joined by anger, frustration and fear when she learns that the Post Office plans to close her outpost, leaving her with two options: She can retire, or else transfer to a distant new job that would require a bus commute. Nora wants neither, given that they both spell the end of her comfortable reality. Subsequent sit-downs with corporate bigwigs, and town hall meetings where residents air their grievances, only amplify her hopelessness and longing for a bygone past.

Offhand references to a husband and youthful hitchhiking convey how Nora wound up in this remote rural settlement, and also why she might balk at altering her circumstances. Quinn’s evocation of his rural milieu is as heartfelt as Allen’s tender performance as Nora, who, just beneath her friendly exterior, is a haunted soul scared of being alone, starting over, and the idea that obsolescence may be drawing near. Those anxieties are suggested by an opening quotation about how life inherently feels — namely, like it goes on “forever and not long enough” — as well as by intermittent scenes involving its speaker, Ella (Hannah Gross), a young hitchhiker with a complicated attitude about change.

Ella’s relationship to Nora is never overtly explained, and yet it remains clear from, among other things, Quinn’s dreamy juxtapositions of the two. Their dynamic is one of many “Colewell” elements to benefit from the filmmaker’s confident storytelling, which efficiently addresses the push-pull between youth and age, movement and stasis, courage and timidity. Even at a concise 79 minutes, its tranquility — enhanced by gauzy images spied through sheer window curtains, and reflections of Nora and Ella in foggy mirrors and nighttime windows — occasionally verges on the somnambulistic. Still, the film’s finely crafted serenity is in keeping with its main character’s secluded state of affairs, and mind.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Colewell'

Reviewed at IFC Center, New York., April 5, 2019. (In San Francisco Film Festival — Launch.) Running time: 79 MIN.

Production: A Washington Square Films and Byer, Shilowich, Thurm production in association with Wavelength Productions. Producer: Alexander Byer, Craig Shilowich, Matthew Thurm, Joshua Blum, Cameron Brody, Catherine Kellner. Executive producers: Konawal Micah Spear, Jenifer Westphal, Joe Plummer. Co-producers: Maggie Ambrose. Co-executive producers: Adam Kirszner.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Tom Quinn. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Paul Yee. Editor: Darrin Navarro, Tom Quinn. Music: Dara Taylor.

With: Karen Allen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Hannah Gross, Malachy Cleary, Daniel Jenkins, Craig Walker.

More Film

  • Brad Pitt stars in ONCE UPON

    Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Gets Oct. 25 China Release

    Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is scheduled for a China release on Oct. 25, three months after its U.S. debut. The mainland opening will hit after the country’s National Day holiday in the first week of October, which this year marks a key and politically sensitive anniversary — the 70th year of [...]


    Filmax Acquires International on ‘The Curse of the Handsome Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Barcelona-based boutique studio Filmax has acquired international rights to Argentine producer-director Beda Docampo’s “The Curse of the Handsome Man,” produced by Ibón Cormenzana’s Arcadia Motion Pictures alongside Cados Producciones and Damned Besso –based in Spain—in co-production with Cecilia Díez’s Zarlek Producciones (“Medianeras”) in Argentina. The film is backed by Spanish public broadcaster [...]

  • La-mala-familia

    Javi Tasio Talks ECAM Incubator Title ‘La Mala Familia’

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Via their BRBR collective, filmmakers Nacho A. Villar and Luis Rojo have directed award winning music videos, and commercias. Now they’ll make the leap to features with “La Mala Familia,” a gritty urban drama set in the outskirts of Madrid. Variety spoke with the film’s producer, Javi Tasio, who developed this project at ECAM’s [...]

  • Charlie-Chaplin-and-Horse-Roy-Export-Co

    Carmen Chaplin to Direct ‘Charlie Chaplin, a Man of the World’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Director-producer-actress Carmen Chaplin is set to direct “Charlie Chaplin, a Man of the World,” a theatrical documentary feature which will add a hardly-explored new facet to the creator of the Tramp, one of the most iconic cinema characters in popular consciousness, plumbing Chaplin’s Romani roots and heritage. Marking the first time that [...]

  • Incitement

    'Incitement' Wins Ophir Award for Best Picture, Becomes Israel's Oscar Submission

    “Incitement” was the best-picture winner at Israel’s Ophir Awards on Sunday night, automatically becoming the country’s choice to vie for the international feature film Oscar. The winning film, a drama about the period leading up to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, had its global premiere at [...]

  • LargoAI

    LargoAI Wins Inaugural San Sebastian Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Swiss artificial intelligence and data analytics company LargoAI won Sunday’s first-ever San Sebastian Film Festival Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge. LargoAI’s software provides data-driven filmmaking strategies, similar to those used by major VOD platforms which aggregate and often horde their own user-driven data. From early in the screenwriting process through development and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content