Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A late-coming-of-age movie, Tom O'Brien's FAIRHAVEN finds something genuine and kind in our ordinary, everyday life....

FAIRHAVEN is a nice little movie, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise, so be it. I don't imagine the cast and crew of this labor of love (for that is what is appears) will mind the description. What this group, led by co-writer/
director/cast member Tom O'Brien (shown below), has produced is a small film full of character (and characters) that's heavy on place and mood and is filled with smart, well-observed dialog brought to life by a well-chosen ensem-ble cast. What intelligent movie-goer wouldn't welcome this?

To begin with, Mr O'Brien's screenplay is a nifty piece of work: weaving exposition casually, calmly, unobtrusively into dialog that always sounds real. A funeral is taking place over the weekend we spend with three old friends: Dave (played by Chris Messina, who also co-wrote the screenplay), whose estranged father has just died; Sam (Rich Sommer, of Mad Men, here playing a role that has a little sex appeal for a change); and Jon (played by O'Brien), who proves the centerpiece -- but not by too much -- of this resolutely ensemble movie that plays remarkably fair by all its people and that is never misogynistic, even though the central characters are all guys.

The enjoyment of movies like this -- aside from their choice rendering of place and time (above and below: the ace, widescreen cinematography is by Peter Simonite, whose shot of morning over the ocean is a keeper) -- comes from watching and listening carefully, as character and situation are slowly revealed. There is nothing here that will set the screen afire (or, more likely, your at-home monitor, as I suspect VOD and DVD will prove the biggest venue for the film). On the other hand, it is always a pleasure to see a creative piece in which a new filmmaker (this is O'Brien's first first-length work) bites off just about what he is able to chew.

O'Brien also manages to surprise us somewhat by setting up what at first appears to be one of those bad-boy-returns-home-to-wreak-havoc-on-his-town-and-former-friends scenarios, and then slowly subverts this. Messina (below, right, with Sarah Paulson, and at bottom, center), in the bad boy role, is terrific, as always. Is there anything this actor cannot do? If so, we haven't seen it yet.

As noted, Sommer (below, right) brings a nice maturity and even a little sex appeal to his role. His scene, late in the film, with Natalie Gold (below, left) is just lovely, with every tiny emotion and hesitant bit of dialog beautifully rendered by both actors.

O'Brien's character -- an ex-high-school football star now involved in less "manly" pursuits like writing, relaxation classes and therapy sessions -- is an interesting one. Someone who appears to have always taken the easier option, this guy must at last actively pursue something. Or someone:  maybe his relaxation instructor, played with verve and charm by Alexie Gilmore (below). These two make quite a pair.

In the roles of the older generation, Maryann Plunkett and Phyllis Kay do well as, respectively, Jon's and Dave's moms; and especially good and so interesting in a quiet, nurturing way is Donna O'Brien as Jon's therapist and Paul O'Brien as Jon's boat captain/boss. Technically, the movie is more than up-to-snuff, and the locations -- the film was shot in the actual Fairhaven and in New Bedford, Massachusetts -- are well-used.

The downside of nice little movies is that there is usually nothing really new involved, and that is true in the care of Fairhaven, too. If you must have new and exciting, look elsewhere. But for a good, solid ensemble dramedy, this one brings home the bacon. It opens theatrically this Friday, January 11, in New York City at the Cinema Village and in Boston at the Sommerville Theater. Beginning Tuesday, January 15, the film will be available via VOD -- and pretty much everywhere across the USA.

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