Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zack Parker's SCALENE presents an interesting triangle -- and yet another chance for Margo Martindale to shine

SCALENE, the title of the film from Zack Parker, is not the name of its main character, played with great ferocity and her usual finesse by the wonderful Margo Martindale. Instead, it refers to a couple of things: the type of triangle  that the brain-damaged son of the character played by Ms Martindale is asked to put together during his visit to a doctor, as well as a kind of stand-in for the three main characters in the film, who form a three-sided and quite unequal triangle, and from whose viewpoints we witness their story as it unfurls -- beginning at nearly the finale and then backtracking so that we see and understand the tale more fully.

Reality, for filmmaker Parker (shown at right), proves multifaceted and graspable only by seeing all sides of the situation. What makes Scalene particularly redolent and sophisticated in terms of its storytelling technique is that Parker doesn't hit us over the head with with any obvious she says/he says/she says rendition or by separating the film into three sections or by repeating entire segments from another person's viewpoint. No: Instead he begins at the climax and then circles back, filling in the blanks via story and characterization alone. In this way we slowly come to understand the situation and how and why it evolved into the shocking mess it has now become.

The story is simple enough. Janice Trimble (Ms Martindale, above), rather than hospitalizing her grown son, Jakob (Adam Scarimbolo, below) -- who has suffered since middle school with brain damage due to inhaling some unhelpful airplane glue -- intends to care for him on her own.

To this end she hires a young college girl, Paige (Hanna Hall, at left), to act as her part-time home-health-care aid. Over time, however, Paige grows fond of Jakob and begins to feel that perhaps Janice is physically abusing her son. What to do? The choices made at this point, which lead to choices made later by others, could be called into question as not the smartest way to handle things. Yet, in no case are these choices beyond the bounds of reality, so we -- and the characters -- must deal with them as they are.

All three actors are good, and Ms Martindale is exceptional. I ques-tion, however, the casting of Ms Hall as a college-age student. Physically speaking, she simply looks way too old; in some scenes with the actress who plays her mother, you'll imagine the two are sisters. This also makes the character's naivete a bit hard to accept.

Still, it is bracing to see an independent film that bites off a chunk of situation this interesting and challenging, and then lets its audience chew on it until digestion takes place. More often filmmakers bite, chew and ingest all on their own, before spitting it up into something like pre-digested pablum for their audience.

And then there is Margo Martindale, a great character actress and leading lady who is finally coming into her own in terms of having a large audience at last discover her. (She won an Emmy last year for her work on Justified and was honored a few years back with a Chlotrudis Award for her great work as that Colorado postmistress in the Alexander Payne segment of Paris je t'aime. Ms Martindale alone is reason enough to see most any film she's in, and this one is no exception. Scalene makes its appearance on DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, July 31, from Breaking Glass Pictures -- for sale or rental.

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