×

Film Review: ‘South Mountain’

A wife and mother navigates a personal crisis caused by her husband in Hilary Brougher’s incisive portrait of middle-aged upheaval.

Director:
Hilary Brougher
With:
Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Macaulee Cassady, Violet Rea, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Guthrie Mass, Isis Masoud.

Running time: 85 MIN.

“South Mountain” joins the company of “Gloria Bell” and “Diane” as yet another 2019 drama intimately attuned to the literal and emotional plight of a middle-aged woman. In the case of Hilary Brougher’s incisive feature, the female in question is Lila (Talia Balsam), whose quiet life in upstate New York is destabilized by a continuing series of abandonments. A snapshot of major and minor upheavals, and the rocky means by which people move forward from them, it’s a showcase for Balsam’s superb lead turn, and — following its premiere at SXSW earlier this year, and spotlight selection screening at BAMcinemaFEst — an accomplished if minor indie facing a tough marketplace.

At an afternoon cookout with breast-cancer-stricken friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols) and her kids Charlotte (Violet Rea) and Jake (Guthrie Mass), Lila appears subtly troubled when screenwriter husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) chooses to take a work call in private. Her fears are well-founded, as Edgar is instead video chatting with mistress Gemma (Isis Masoud), who’s on the precipice of giving birth to their son in a bedroom. The ensuing, up-close-and-personal smartphone footage of that conception is real, and sets the tone for the ensuing atmosphere crafted by Brougher, whose images of fruit being cut on carving tables, food sitting on plates in muggy, insect-populated rooms, sugar cubes being stirred in tea cups, and trees rusting in the wind at twilight convey a tactile sense of this earthy milieu.

Edgar’s betrayal isn’t his first — a revelation that, like most of the details in Brougher’s discreet script (which leaps ahead at intervals denoted by onscreen dates), is learned through conversational bits and pieces. No matter Edgar’s adulterous pattern of behavior, the news hits Lila hard, especially since she wants to shield daughters Dara (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) and Sam (Macaulee Cassady) — the latter from Edgar’s first marriage — from pain. Her ensuing efforts to cope with Edgar’s unfaithfulness form the backbone of the film’s action. An argument with Gigi provides Lila with an excuse to vent, but by and large, she confronts her newfound situation softly, be it finding temporary comfort in the arms of Sam’s friend Jonah (Michael Oberholtzer), or face-to-face with Edgar, with whom she strives to maintain a relationship — thanks to her prior ability to forgive his trespasses — despite her fury, which manifests itself in a drastic, if hastily reconsidered, stab at revenge.

Those two incidents would, in a more clichéd story, thrust Lila into overtly melodramatic terrain. Yet “Small Mountain” maintains restraint, born from an understanding of Lila’s conflicted feelings about Edgar, her kids (whom she wants to protect, and who fear she may turn suicidal again), and the fact that everyone in her life keeps leaving her. When Lila dismisses Jonah’s advice to “run away” as an option available only to young people, the film assumes an honest, authentic perspective on the trials and tribulations of adulthood. In the face of hardships without easy solutions, all that Lila can do is simply navigate each day the best she can, and hope those in her orbit understand her circumstances and take her choices (and mistakes) in stride.

As highlighted by its pitch-perfect finale, “South Mountain” demonstrates a realistically complex conception of stock ideas like “vengeance,” “moving on” and “healing,” and Ethan Mass’s cinematography echoes the material’s dualities in its delicate interplay of light and dark. Guiding the material from start to finish, however, is Balsam, who expresses much with little: a charged look in a sauna that functions as flirting; a gaze upwards on a bed at a moment of warring desires; a silent glance through a screen door that’s wrought with equal measures of relief and misery. In her reserved countenance, Brougher’s film speaks volumes.

Film Review: 'South Mountain'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., June 18, 2019. (In SXSW, BAMcinemaFest film festivals.) Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: An Avernal Poole production (International Sales: Cinetic, New York). Producer: Susan A. Stover, Maria Rosenblum, Kristin M. Frost. Executive producers: Jean-Christophe Castelli. Co-producers: Raj Trivedi.

Crew: Director, writer: Hilary Brougher. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Ethan Mass. Editor: Maria Rosenblum. Music: Herdis Stefansdottir.

With: Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Macaulee Cassady, Violet Rea, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Guthrie Mass, Isis Masoud.

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film

  • marvel

    Marvel Phase 4 Plan Revealed, But Comic-Con’s Big Winner is Disney Plus

    In a triumphant return to the San Diego Comic-Con main stage, leadership at Marvel Studios managed some splashy surprises and showed off risky creative bets for the next two years of content coming from the superhero operation. But the biggest takeaway from the Saturday presentation inside Hall H was how important Marvel will make Disney [...]

  • Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel

    'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh Go Head-to-Head in First Footage

    Marvel’s “Black Widow” has only been in production for a month, but studio president Kevin Feige still delivered the goods for fans at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Filmmakers brought an intense sizzle reel of on-location shots, kicked off by a dazzling and bone-crushing fight sequence between lead Scarlett Johansson and her on-screen sister Florence [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor

    Natalie Portman Returns for 'Thor: Love and Thunder' as Female Thor

    Natalie Portman is coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she’s no one’s love interest this time around. The Oscar winner will play a female god of thunder in the fourth film from the Chris Hemsworth series, titled “Thor: Love and Thunder.” More Reviews Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical Film [...]

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. More Reviews Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical Film [...]

  • Mahershala AliMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. More Reviews Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.” Derrickson said it will lead [...]

  • Simu Liu Shang-Chi

    Marvel's 'Shang-Chi' Finds Its Lead

    Marvel has found its next superhero. The studio announced that Simu Liu has been tapped to star in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” during its Hall H presentation at Comic Con, joining cast member Awkwafina, who was also announced during the presentation. Additionally, Veteran actor Tony Leung has joined the film as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content