Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An expert cast shines in REFUGE, Jessica Gold-berg's lovely entry into film (based on her play)

The set-up here is at once so believable and poignant that you may feel your tear ducts filling, even as the film's second scene is taking place. We're in the land of youngsters again, specifically that of a family and the outsider who pays it a visit, of those who need care and those who give it. Sometimes these are one in the same. REFUGE, the 2012 movie that's finally opening theatrically this week, is a smart, sweet film but not a great one. But so well-acted is it, with an abundance of excellent dialog and a situation so fraught as to grab us by the collar and not let go for all of its 84-minute running time, that I suspect you'll be happy to settle for simply a "good" film.

A hook-up commences in a local bar between a fellow named Sam (Brian Geraghty, above, right) who looks to be something of a drifter, as he comes on to a pretty young woman, Amy (Krysten Ritter, above, left), who then takes him home. Their lovemaking is interrupted by her physically handicapped brother, Nat (Logan Huffman), and before we can say, "Oh, boy -- this girl has a lot on her plate," we're hooked. And so, perhaps is that drifter. And we haven't yet met the family's sad, self-abusive younger sister (Madeleine Martin). Based upon a play of the same name by Jessica Goldberg (shown above), Refuge so quickly and firmly places us in the company of people we like and root for that we don't need a whole lot of melodrama to keep us interested.

This is good because Goldberg doesn't seem keen on providing much of the "melo" stuff, nor even a whole lot of conflict to keep her movie moving. In fact, it is rather clear from the get-go that Sam may be in this for the long haul. The only real question then becomes: How will this "family" manage to accept their savior and work with him?

That question becomes enough to carry us and the characters to some kind of completion. Along the way, we concentrate on the excellent performances, which are very nearly enough to do the trick. Everyone is first-rate, and Mr. Geraghty quite a bit more than that. This young actor -- at his best when seeming to be least "present" -- has a remarkable ability to shine from within without apparently even trying. Geraghty has enlivened a number of movies in this fashion -- The Hurt Locker, Flight, and especially Easier With Practice -- and here he proves so solid-but-never-stolid that he simply walks away with the movie. (Young women everywhere are going to be asking, Why can't I find a guy like this?!)

Ms Ritter (above) matches Geraghty quite well. She is good at strength-via-deflection, and her slow unwinding and acceptance is a lovely thing to see. As the younger siblings Huffman (shown at bottom, left) and Martin (below, left) each contribute something special: he by beautifully capturing his character's physicality, she by subtly showing us the mental state that accompanies physical self-abuse.

Though made three years ago, the film still captures what our crappy economy has done to folk who exist on the edge, and how everyone now must settle for slave wages except the very wealthy. Still, for a film that tackles such a sad and barely hopeful situation, Refuge turns out to be exactly that.

The movie, from Strand Releasing, opens this Friday in New York City at the Village East Cinema and next Friday, April 4, in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset 5.

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