Directed by Cam Archer
Walking away from her acting career—35 films in 30 years—after a victory lap on the stage, Colleen West (Ellen Barkin, frequently sounding stuffed-up) retires to a country house where she skulks around by herself in her pajamas, recalling scenes from an unhappy recent dalliance with Harvey West (Luke Grimes), a much-younger co-star. These include imagined attempts to come to terms with the failed relationship in the futuristic “Information Room,” a New Age–therapeutic spin on THX-1138’s white-void prison world. Her interactions with others are mostly limited to her “craft-friendly” neighbor Shelly (Melora Walters) and her visiting brother (Bob Einstein), who enthuses about the Toy Story-with-office-supplies fiction he’s been working on. They both interpret everything Colleen says with a philistine literalness, and their voices clang against the otherwise beautifully spaced-out sound design (at one point, a solitary Colleen even mocks Shelly’s chirpy way of talking).
So Shit Year, written and directed by Cam Archer (Wild Tigers I Have Known) and shot in gorgeously liquid black-and-white, shows the world from the perspective of the rather imperious aging star—striking a bluntly autumnal note as it pieces together plot points from fractured reminiscences, a heavily elliptical narrative approach that feels a bit Weerasethakulian. And Archer makes clear that Colleen’s adjustment problem is largely due to a somewhat unfixed identity (there is the matter of her taking up with another person named West, and of her playacting during what would normally be polite conversation). The movie never seems to penetrate past its own shimmering surface, though—perhaps due to its oddly short-term memory. Archer includes a smattering of vaguely suggestive film clips, but Colleen is otherwise stuck entirely on recent disappointments. As a result, Shit Year seems like so much end-of-day kvetching, rather than a twilight retrospective to match its mood of melancholic grandeur.
Opens September 21 at IFC Center