#Tribeca 2015: Female Characters Are Strong As Hell

04/21/2015 2:30 PM |

shut_up_and_drive_still

I’ve noticed that a lot of Tribeca movies run 90 minutes or less, which makes it easier to pack a day full of screenings, which in turn creates some unintentional but often fitting double features. For example, I saw Melanie Shaw’s Shut Up and Drive and Diane Bell’s Bleeding Heart back to back, and they both involve unexpected and quick-forming bonds between young women. In Bleeding Heart, the actresses playing the women are semi-famous (Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet); in Shut Up and Drive, they’re not. They both have moments of real endearment, but neither completely works.

Shut Up and Drive starts out with a weirdly stagy attempt at naturalism as it introduces Jane (Sarah Sutherland), her actor boyfriend Austin (Morgan Krantz), and his childhood friend Laura (Zoe Worth), who blows into town to finish a music project with him. Austin must immediately depart for a sudden big-break film shoot, against Jane’s poorly articulated wishes; Laura sticks around, and eventually the two women set out on a road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where Austin is shooting. It’s pretty simple, but the movie, using abrupt cuts, fragmented scenes, and road-trip montages to suggest more life beyond the frame, renders a lot of the backstory utterly unconvincing: why doesn’t Jane have a general idea of Laura’s age, and why is Laura only 22 when her childhood friend seems to be at least a few years out of college? Basically, whenever the movie has to introduce complications, it loses all sense, especially the circumstances under which Laura manages to flush her credit card down the toilet (which turns out to be a non-issue anyway).

Yet Shut Up and Drive has its moments, little conversational confessionals or offhand remarks that have a sweet, unforced intimacy. I see in the press notes that Sutherland and Worth have worked together before, which makes sense: they’re much more convincing as friends than an odd couple. Some of the road-trip scenes have a magic-hour beauty, a relief from the early scenes where the digital photography has an online-video sheen. But the movie doesn’t really get a handle on who any of these characters are: Jane often seems anguished for reasons only vaguely alluded to; Austin seems untrustworthy, but mainly because he seems to make Jane sad; and Laura gets lost somewhere between free spirit and fuck-up.

bleeding heart

Bleeding Heart, meanwhile, knows exactly who its characters are, to the point of imposing awkward symbolic tidiness on the material: May (Jessica Biel) is a yoga instructor whose life looks perfectly ordered and peaceful, and she sells that peace to her students, alongside her even more centered boyfriend. But when she meets Shiva (Zosia Mamet), her long-lost half-sister from the biological mom she never knew, the younger woman, a prostitute with an abusive boyfriend, throws disarray into her life. Interestingly, the movie is more interested in the consequences of the pair’s immediate bond, rather than a direct conflict between the two; their mutual willingness to spend time with each other is touching. Mamet does especially strong work, bringing some Shoshanna inflection to a grittier, sadder part. But the movie takes that gritty sad stuff seriously—very seriously, even when Mamet is getting laughs. Bleeding Heart has such a dour veneer that even the lighter moments feel slightly doomy; it’s even got a first-act gun. I can’t say I was bored when the movie started indulging a weird thriller-ish streak, but I can’t say it really nails its genre elements, either.

Come Down Molly

There’s only one major female character in Come Down Molly, another 80-minute slice of life; the Molly of the title (Eleonore Hendricks) is a new mother worn out by her new responsibilities. She takes off for a weekend getaway with a gaggle of her middle school/high school friends, all male, and at first the movie sets up an intriguing gender-imbalanced riff on The Big Chill (every big-tent festival needs at least one Big Chill riff, it seems). Writer-director Gregory Kohn establishes the claustrophobia of Molly’s life as a parent: the movie begins with a series of near-wordless closeups, and when dialogue finally pipes in, it comes fast, whiny, and contentious. When Molly gets to her friend’s country house, there are still plenty of handheld close-ups, but the movie opens up; it becomes warmer and more relaxing as the friends fill in bits of their history together.

Then the characters take mushrooms and wander around fields for 45 minutes.

I get it: it’s the point of the movie, and it doesn’t indulge in tripping cliches. Its imagery is only gently psychedelic, more hippie sunbeams and brighter blues and refracted pink light than crazy tripping. But there’s only so much pastoral giggling a person who doesn’t give a fuck about psychedelic mushrooms can take without finding all of the self-loving babble kind of depressing. At one point, the tripping friends hear an animal noise, and scramble up a hill to identify it, only to find that it’s “just a bunch of fucking cows mooing.” Make a species adjustment and that pretty much describes the movie.

Come Down Molly screens again at Tribeca on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. Shut Up and Drive and Bleeding Heart screen again on Saturday night.