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December 20, 2011

Things I Don't Understand

molly ryman.JPG
Molly Ryman

David Spaltro - 2011

I'm in a bit of an unusual situation here, writing about a film isn't readily available to be seen publicly. You might not be able to see Things I Don"t Understand at any theater remotely near you. If you are lucky, you might be able to see this film at one of the better film festivals, one that doesn't have the words "Sun" or "Dance" in their name.

Unlike what sometimes passes for independent films, Things isn't chock full of the kind of quirky characters that seem to only exist in movies, nor is it the work of someone clueless regarding where to place a camera. Most of the characters are original enough that they had their own foibles, yet I didn't feel like they existed in some alternate universe. One of the reasons I disliked Blue Valentine is because I could never believe that scene where Michelle Williams is tap dancing outdoors to the song, "You Always Hurt the One You Love".

The best reason to see Things is for Grace Folsom's performance as Sara, a young woman with cancer. Sharp and sarcastic, never for a moment allowing anyone to feel sorry for her, yet revealing her own vulnerabilities near the end, this is one great character and performance. What makes Folsom's performance more remarkable is that most of her acting is from the neck up, while sitting in a wheel chair or in bed. It's in her eyes, her facial expressions, her voice. Hopefully others will take notice.

grace folsom.jpg
Grace Folsom

We discover Sara through Violet, the film's main character, a graduate student who attempts to find meaning for herself by chronicling the near death experiences of others. What begins as research evolves into a bonding experience that forces Violet to confront aspects of herself during the course of her friendship with Sara. While most of the film is centered on Violet, her two artist roommates, and the young bartender that she may, or may not, be in love with, it is the scenes of Violet and Sara that comprise the heart and soul of David Spaltro's film.

Even though Spaltro takes on the big subjects of life and death, it's neither grim nor pretentious here. There is one very funny scene of a feminist performance piece going disastrously and hilariously wrong, and the brief moment when Violet, played by Molly Ryman, wakes up from a night of too much dreaming, with the look of horror when she discovers she did not go to bed alone. The only "name" actor here is Lisa Eichhorn, seen here as Violet's psychiatrist. Those of us with long memories best recall Ms. Eichhorn from Yanks and Cutter's Way.

One hope that as the 2012 film festival season gets underway, that David Spaltro's new film will be given the kind of showcase it deserves, and the kind of consideration more high profile films are given at year's end.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 20, 2011 07:18 AM