Directed by Paul Harrill
Opens January 9 at the IFP’s Made in NY Media Center
Something, Anything begins with scenes from a catalogue-pretty marriage: the proposal, the wedding-registry barcode scanning, the chummy speeches alluding to “babies, lots of babies!” But the mournful piano-driven score suggests an alternate interpretation of Peggy‘s (Ashley Shelton) speechlessness when fratboyishly handsome Mark (Bryce Johnson) pops the question in front of her friends. When Peggy miscarries, it’s a dramatic “inciting incident” that feels credible: Peggy is living the kind of life in which motherhood would have delayed introspection for a decade or more. Instead, she gets her own apartment. Her parents help her move in, presumably indulging a temporary hiccup.
The title of writer-director Paul Harrill’s Knoxville, Tennessee-shot feature debut is the answer, never spoken, to the question hanging over Peggy’s suddenly tense interactions with old friends (you get the feeling they were all cheerleaders together) at baby showers. It’s also present in Peggy’s new life: an hourly gig shelving books at the library; photocopying swathes of the New Testament; divesting herself of TV, Crate and Barrel furnishings and red bedsheets (half “Simplify, simplify” and half subcultural redecorating—she holds onto Catch-22); and corresponding with a serious-minded boy from high school who has joined a monastery. The film creates some perhaps inadvertent, but effectively searching suspense over what sort of belief systems—Christian, ascetic, secular-artisanal—Peggy will end up following to her bliss.
Before she starts at the library (by then going by Margaret, the name on her birth certificate), Peggy quits her real estate job—within her allegedly enviable, suddenly unwanted life, her vocational restlessness, repopulating bubble-built Sun Belt McMansions, gestures towards a more national conversation about values. Harrill’s easy shorthand for identifiable types does backfire when the monk (who, in contrast to the shiny-shirted estranged husband, sports both a scruffy beard and glasses) is finally found hanging out with a 90s-vintage college rock band. But Something, Anything has overall the welcome sense of familiar strands of life transposed to cinema with minimal embellishment. Bryce Johnson is good as a man vacillating between writing off his wife as a flakey disappointment, and taking her leaving as a ding on his status. In fact, the less sympathetically his character is written, the more believable Peggy/Margaret’s indecision over her marriage becomes—her non-acknowledgement of his objective low-level paternalistic douchebaggery reads as one symptom of an ingrained and lifelong set of imposed expectations.