Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Matt Sobel's TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: family drama full of innuendo, shock and withholding

Having not a little in common with last week's much better movie, The Automatic Hate, this week's opener, TAKE ME TO THE RIVER, is also a family drama about the past and secrets and how all this inevitably catches up with us. It features some fine performances, along with direction that pushes these to the fore, while paying attention to the place-specific (Nebraska) visuals and to a screenplay (also by Mr. Sobel) that dispenses with almost everything except the insistently heavy-handed and secret-laden plot.

The filmmaker, pictured at left, begins and ends his films with his "first family" in the car, arriving then departing from a family reunion that has turned into a kind of disaster. (Can you think of a family reunion in movies that has not? TrustMovies is certain that there must have been one or two, but he can't remember them just now.) The film's similar beginning/ending duplicates those of another, also much better movie, from a few years ago, The Way Way Back. What goes on in between, however, is quite different.

So eager is Mr. Sobel to get right into things that he practically dispenses with any of the reunion, other than an immediate family photograph and some odd "bonding" between Ryder, the teenage son from California (played by Logan Miller, above, right), and one of his cousins, a wise/bizarre-beyond-her-years little girl named Molly (played quite wisely and bizarrely by Ursula Parker, below).

Something very strange happens, which immediately divides the reunion into us vs them (Molly's dad, played with unusual anger and creepiness by Josh Hamilton -- below, right -- is the primary "them"), and this leads the film's several main characters, into even stranger things.

The filmmaker, I think, can be given credit for not wanting to answer all the questions his plot raises. But when the characters themselves do not bother to ask the most important questions here -- one in particular: What happened to Molly? demands an answer -- believability soon goes out the window.

Much is made, going into the movie, about Ryder's homosexuality and whether or not this should be kept from the Nebraska relatives. His mom (Robin Weigert, above, left) and dad (Richard Schiff, above, right. who also, coincidentally, played one of the protagonist's dads in The Automatic Hate) suggest exactly that, but by the end of this strange movie, that homosexuality seems to have been used mainly to demonstrate this family's predilection for deviant sexuality of all kinds. Golly, it just must be in our DNA!

Of course it is. But so is our need for explanations, answers to questions, and in fact, the need to ask those question. Instead Take Me to the River is content to offer up innuendo, a little sexual shock and perhaps incipient lobotomization in place of characters who act alive and alert. (Unless perhaps, Mr. Sobel is saying something about America's "red" states and what they spawn).

Well, the movie's certainly edgy and thought-provoking. I just wish it were a little more real. From Film Movement and running 85 minutes, it has played a number of film festivals across the country over the past six months and now opens this Friday, March 18, in New York City at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and the following Friday, March 25, at Landmark's NuArt in Los Angeles. You can see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here and then scrolling down.

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