Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The try-anything Josh Lucas scores again in Chris Eyre/Peter Vanderwall's HIDE AWAY

How talented, how versatile is Josh Lucas? The 40-year-old actor may look the same from role to role, but he continues to grow -- while surprising us and maybe even himself. He can handle with flair and depth roles as varied as romantic comedy (Sweet Home Alabama); character-driven independents (Coastlines, Stolen); would-be, under-rated blockbusters (Poseidon); extreme villains (Undertow); sad, near-comedic character roles (Daydream Nation) and indescribable art-film shockers (the must-see Death in Love). This actor manages them all with nary a dishonest moment. Now comes a quiet little movie called HIDE AWAY that he carries, acting-wise, nearly single-handedly on his own broad-enough shoulders, creating an indelible character in a beautiful and memorable film.

"Are you a boat guy?" a fellow asks Lucas (at right, whose role here is called simply The Young Mariner). Playing a man of very few words, our guy doesn't answer, but since he has just bought himself a boat, we of course assume he is. But, no. So why has he purchased this old wreck, and what does he plan to do with it? Answers are a long time coming; when they do, we are so caught up with our Mariner -- his moment-to-moment life, and the odd acquaintances he has made -- that we no longer care so much about any "answers." It takes a movie of particular grace and serenity to help its audience achieve this state. By gum, Hide Away does just that.

The film has been directed by Chris Eyre (shown at left)a name that should be familiar to movie-lovers but may not come immediately to mind because its owner has directed but a very few films over the past 14 years (he's worked more in TV). One of these films, however -- his first -- was the independent treasure, Smoke Signals. Hide Away, though very different, is just as good. Eyre combines the peaceful beauty of the coastline and water, the flora and fauna, the changing weather with a remarkable lack of dialog to achieve a kind of simplicity and elegance (the latter most definitely not of the chi-chi sort) that quietly but strongly forces us to respond to the Mariner and the other characters in their own time and at their own pace. This is something most movies would be very afraid to even try, let alone succeed at so remarkably well.

As good as is the work of Mr Eyre, so, too, is that of Peter Vanderwall (shown at right) who wrote the quite special screenplay, an interesting note about which appears at the end of this post. It was the screenplay, which was written nearly a decade ago, that first attracted Eyre, Lucas and producer Sally Jo Effenson to the project. To create a story of a man in recovery using so little dialog can not have been an easy task. To further add a group of subsidiary characters, all of whom have their own problems (and their own reasons for clamming up) seems to me to be really taking a chance -- which simply makes the work of Vanderwall, Eyre and their cast even more risky but finally all the more impressive.

The supporting cast is made up some very strong actors who are able, with few scenes and little dialog, to create characters that live vibrantly and help us interact with our troubled hero. Ayelet Zurer (above, in the background to Lucas' foreground), who registered so well in the recent Darling Companion, does exactly that here. Whatever movie she appears in, Ms Zurer offers it a strong presence, and this one is no exception.

Another actor with a strong presence is James Cromwell, above, right. (Remember his farmer-of-few-words in Babe?). His stern, near-stony visage is used well here, and how he -- and the other maybe half-dozen character who interact with our Mariner -- connects to Lucas, slowly but keenly, is impressive. (Speaking of minimal dialog, however, I could have done without quite so much verbiage from Cromwell's character regarding his late wife. It was all there, already, in this fine actor's sense of solitude and loss, so we don't need this extra helping of words.)

Maybe the most impressive single scene takes place between the mariner and the pretty young woman (a lovely turn by Casey LaBow) whom he often sees working the cash register at his local market. This sudden, surprise meeting between them, using little dialog but remarkable feeling and tension, is filmed and acted beautifully, allowing viewers to fill in the blanks that unwanted exposition usually handles.

Good work also comes from actors Jon Tenney (shown at right) as a marina neighbor of the Mariner who isn't quite the "boat man" he believes himself to be) and Taylor Nichols as Lucas' frustrated but-still-hanging-in-there boss.

Hide Away may leave you, as it did several of us at the end of the screening, in a quiet state of grace. It certainly isn't much like anything else that has opened theatrically of late. In terms of its reach and its grasp being very nearly at one with each other, I'd have to rate it among the very best of this year's movies so far. The film opens this Friday, June 1, in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3, in San Francisco at the SF Film Society Cinema, and in Salem, Oregon, at the Salem Cinema.
It will have other playdates around the country in the weeks to come. Click here and then click on SEE THE FILM, and then Theaters to see all the currently scheduled playdates.

The movie is also available via iTunes and VOD. To learn where and how to get it in this fashion, click here, and then on SEE THE FILM and then click On Demand.

*****************

As the end credits rolled by at the close of Hide Away, my guest and I both noticed a mention/dedication of the film to a Vanderwall other than the screenwriter, along with a photograph, plus birth and death dates that seemed to indicate an awfully short life span. Credits roll too fast at times, and since we could not hit the "scroll back" button to read the information again, I asked the film's very helpful publicist, Nina Baron of PMK if she could find out more about this. Soon I received an email from the screenwriter, Peter Vanderwall, that filled us in on the whole story. Mr Vanderwall has very kindly assented to my using that email information below:

HIDE AWAY is dedicated to the memory of my son, Kenneth Vanderwall, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest two weeks into his freshman year at University of San Francisco in September 2008. The photo of Kenny in the end credits (shown at left) was taken on campus after we had moved him into his dorm room and atten-ded the welcome ceremony for new freshman. We said our goodbyes right after that photo. It was the last time I saw him. He was wearing a purple scarf that day which he had never worn before. When I asked him about it, he shrugged like any 18 year-old would and said something like, "A new life. A new style."

Ironically, I had written the screenplay for HIDE AWAY several years before Kenny's death. He was an avid movie buff and an astute critic of my scripts. He was very supportive of my writing this story about a man who deals with a family tragedy by rehabilitating a dilapidated sailboat in a remote marina. Kenny (who is shown in the 2007 photo, below, as a high school senior) was a big fan of SMOKE SIGNALS so when he learned that Chris Eyre would be speaking at a local university, he suggested I talk to Chris about the screen-play. This was in the fall of 2007. I followed Kenny's suggestion and approached Chris after the screening of EDGE OF AMERICA at Willamette University. Chris said he would like to read the script. A month later, he called me and said, "I want to make this movie."

So Chris and I began looking for the right producer for the film. Shortly after Kenny's death, I called Chris and said, "We have to make this movie." About a month later, Chris got the script to producer Sally Jo Effenson. Sally Jo fell in love with the screen-play and optioned it soon after. During one of our early conversa-tions, I told Sally Jo about Kenny's passing. She said without hesitation that the film would be dedi-cated to his memory. And for that, I will be forever grateful. 

The act of writing a fictional narrative about a man losing his child does not prepare one for actually living it. But seeing this truly independent film get made and then watching it affect audiences has been a healing process for me. Like all of the cast and crew, I am very proud of this movie. I think Kenny would be, too.

26 comments:

Luis said...

A very touching and impressive film,and definetly a great message for all people that have suffered a loss, thanks for all the art and acting of this people,for it realy shows the inner feelings of everyday people.loved it very good and impressive work

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Luis. So glad to hear you liked this film. I hope many others will see it and feel this way, too.

Anonymous said...

I grew up, and still summer, not too far down the beach from Bowers Harbor where this was filmed. When I purchased the DVD last night I had no idea what to expect other than to watch a movie filmed in my "hood". Not only was I pleased for it's aesthetic beauty, but for the personal struggles of all four main characters told in an emotionally giving way as well. This emotion has just been further validated by the touching email you display from Mr. Vanderwall regarding the dedication of the movie to his son. Truly heart wrenching.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks so much for posting the above comment, Anon. It really means a lot to me, as I felt that this post was very different from much of what I do, and the screenwriter's story moved me a great deal, as well (both his on-screen story, and his real life one).

And what a joy it must have been (and still is, since you summer there) to grow up in such a lovely place! I hope you continue to enjoy it for many years to come -- or at least as long as our planet and its current coastal areas have left....

Lisa said...

Oh I just loved the quiet depth of this movie. When I saw the dedication at the end, I immediately googled for more information and landed here. Thank you for all of the background story.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Lisa, for this nice comment!

I guess you and I share the habit of watching the end credits, particularly for movies we find especially worthwhile.

Communicating with the screenwriter and learning of his own loss further enriched the film for me, as well as my growing appreciation and understanding of how fragile our lives really are.

Kaffka said...

77A lovely gem of a film. With depth and poignancy the story wraps its quiet narrative around one's heart. Mr. Vanderwall's writing, with the tender and quiet direction of Chris Eyre, and the raw and honest portrayal of each character by the wonderfully talented actors will stay with me for quite some time.

James van Maanen said...

Well put, Kaffka (but I'm not sure what that 77 means. A typo maybe?) Thanks for posting, and I'm glad this movie is staying with you. It has stayed with me to the point where I want to see it again.

Betty Mulligan said...

At the end of this film, I sat, still in it's world. Then I saw the dedication and had to find out more. I am so glad that the search brought me to this page. Your thoughtful and compassionate review leaves no more to be said, except that I enjoyed it so very much. Oh, and I wish Kenneth's father and all his loved ones, comfort. Thank you, James van Maanen for this page. Thank you, Peter Vanderwall for this very engrossing human story.

James van Maanen said...

And than YOU, Betty, for taking the time to post a comment. I am sure it will make Mr. Vanderwall happy, and it has certainly made my day.

I am so glad to see that people are discovering this little gem of a movie that's packed with so much feeling and compassion for all its characters. Films like this so often slip away into obscurity, but maybe this time the web will keep HIDE AWAY timely -- and with us for a long while.

Anonymous said...

I recently lost my brother (he was 34) and wanted to see what ended the young man's life listed in the credits. Sorry for your loss. Helps to know our family is not alone.

Janel

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Janel, and believe me, your family is hardly alone. So many of us have lost parents, siblings, children in untimely fashion (my own mother died when I was but 2-1/2). The world is full of loss, and though we never completely recover from this, I believe, I also know that we go on and manage and grow and (maybe) do some good things along the way. The screenwriter of Hide Away certainly did.

Cynthia Schrantz said...

Thank you for the quiet beauty of this film. Cathartic but not gut-wrenching. Unforseen occurrences happen - may we all have the strength to heal and to continue on our paths.
Cynthia

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Cynthia, for your lovely "take" on this movie. I hope the filmmakers are catching up with this blog now and then, just to see and appreciate what you viewers are saying about their fine work.

Carol said...

Having enjoyed Josh Lucas' acting, I came upon this movie. What a beautiful movie. Having experienced loss as well several times, this brought tears to my eyes but, as we know, life does move on, but memories never fade. What a nice tribute to his son, Kenny. Thank you for making this film.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Carol. I hope the filmmakers will check in here and read your appreciation.

Mario Persona said...

Beautiful movie. Quiet, simple, but hard to take the eyes away from the screen. I think it touches anyone who had to deal with some kind of loss in any moment of his/her life. The pictures also do a lot of the talking.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Mario. Your comments are on target. This movie indeed does much of its "speaking" visually.

Brenda S said...

Loved it! I initially decided to watch the movie because I love sailboats and thought the photography would be spectacular. It did not disappoint! I was also pleasantly surprised at the unspoken communication and depth of characters. Thank you.
Brenda

James van Maanen said...

Another county heard from! Thanks, Brenda, and it's good to know that people who love sailboats and sailing might also stick around for the drama. So glad to hear that you loved the film.

Shady said...

Just wow.

What a movie, will linger a long time with me. Anyone having suffered loss will identify with this film.
Poignant and beautiful.

Thank-you!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for taking the time to post, Shady. I am so glad viewers are continuing to discover this fine film!

Shireen Jamil said...

I just saw this exquisite Film, three days before the 19th Anniversary of my little brother's death, who passed away aged 31, on Oct.15 1995. It is something I will never get over, and I knew early on, as anyone who has lost a loved one, WHY the young man was hell bent on self destruction.Just the GUILT of staying alive is too much to bear.My heart goes on to you for your own loss, and THANK YOU, for showing me through your Film, that eventually, perhaps, there may come some kind of acceptance. Even for me. RIP.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Shireen, for your lovely and sad comment. Loss is something we don't get over, I think, but must simply adjust to somehow.

Again, as I have mentioned regarding some other comments on this film, I hope the movie-makers have the chance to read the comments here, many of which are more directed to them than they are to me, who just posted the original review of this excellent film here on this blog.

Tony Rycyk said...

I work in the film industry and as find it hard to watch movies. I watch this film today and was completely engrossed in the tale. Lovely shots, great composition and the minimal dialog so very well done. A real gem in its writing, direction, lighting and design. Not to mention the beauty full performances of the leads. It's the type of film a wished I'd worked.

James van Maanen said...

Wow-- Tony: What a very kind and meaningful comment you posted. I hope the filmmakers see it. I can't think of higher praise from someone who works on movies than to point out this film as one that he wishes he'd been part of.

Thanks so much for posting!