Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cam Archer's SHIT YEAR gives Ellen Barkin quite a workout. Which she aces like a pro.

As one of those not overly impressed with the Wild Tigers that filmmaker Cam Archer has known, back when his debut feature of a similar name was released in 2006,  TrustMovies came to SHIT YEAR with no particular expectations.  (He does think the this is great title, however, and a great poster, too -- one he can imagine adorning dorm rooms from coast to coast, not to mention the walls of film buffs everywhere.)

Mr. Archer, pictured at right, has shot his new film in a kind of high-contrast black-and-white, and the fine cinematography (by Aaron Platt) goes a long way toward making the film as pleasurable to view as it often is. The rest of the way is provided by its star Ellen Barkin, who alternates from the fun to the bizarre to the sad throughout. The actress gives the film what focus it has, and if you find her -- and/or the character she is playing here -- as interesting as do I, you'll probably be hooked enough to continue for the movie's sometimes rather heavy-going 95 minutes.

Ms Barkin plays an actress named Colleen West, who, we learn has recently played in a piece of legitimate theater opposite an actor named Harvey West (a lean, lanky, very pretty and big-basketed Luke Grimes, shown below, right), with whom she has a goes-nowhere affair.

With a career on the skids, she gives a "good-bye" interview (below: Is this radio? TV?) and then retires to a very nice two-story "cabin" in the country.

There she meets an overly-friendly, doll-making neighbor, played with sweet and ditzy charm by Melora Walters, all the while having fantasies about her ex-paramour that involve (I think) having him cloned (below) -- or something approaching that -- by a group of sci-fi-like people (led by Theresa Randle) who evidently cater to this sort of thing.

Later in the film, her brother (an interesting Bob Einstein) shows up to hang out some neither dirty nor clean laundry that gives us a peek into her family history. Now, none of this is especially riveting. Nor is it boring. It's all quite watchable, hanging together (barely) thanks to Ms Barkin's commanding creation of character and the often beautiful and artistic photography (above and below).

Clearly, Mr. Archer means this to be a dramatic look at an actress trying to come to terms with age, obsession, identity and the like. We see that, but this sort of thing has been done much better elsewhere (Persona, for one example; Opening Night for another), and while this particular story is interesting enough and certainly different, it never involves us on any emotional level and -- except for that provided by the acting choices of Ms Barkin -- is very nearly bereft of any genuine humor. Not that we have to laugh, mind you. But there is something about the "fraughtness" of all this that is a bit of a drag.

Shit Year opened yesterday in Manhattan at IFC Center.  A run at the Texas Theater in Dallas will follow on September 30, and then the film will begin a limited national rollout.

Cam Archer's portrait, seven photos above, 
is by Cristina Grosanshot for NisiMazine
the 2010 Cannes issue.  TrustMovies regrets 
not listing this credit sooner.


Cristina Grosan said...

Hi, there!

You used an image of Cam Archer without asking for permission or crediting it. Please credit this image as follows: by Cristina Grosan, shot for NisiMazine, the Cannes 2010 issue

James van Maanen said...

Hi, Cristina--
Apologies for not crediting you when I first posted this. I try, but sometimes I screw up. The credit is listed now, just above....