By: Sara Brinkac, Peak Associate
Often the phrase “indie comedy” evokes the vision of “quirky” characters who alienate their audience through stilted dialogue and overwhelming tropes lacking genuine emotion. However, the 2018 indie comedy A Maine Movie — now available on Vimeo — offers a breath of fresh air in a film culture that seems increasingly reliant on stylization as a front for originality.
The simple story of six New York friends at a vacation home in Maine is the perfect backdrop for the touching, messy, and real dynamics of friends both new and old. Written by Matt Nelsen and Marty Schousboe, A Maine Movie does what any good comedy strives to do: it takes a hard look at the human condition and finds optimism in existence and laughter in our failures. Not to mention, it also has a great soundtrack.
The film opens on the engagement of Gary (Gary Richardson) and Lauren (Jessica Frey), who are about to spend a weekend in Maine with their friends. This is set to be a picturesque vacation, but as the opening scene may suggest, it is fraught with complication. First, we learn another couple has decided to break up — with one party being a little too enthusiastic about the idea. This prompts the drunken discovery of town local Robby, played by the wonderfully awkward John Reynolds.
Robby joins the friends for dinner and begins what is the first in a long series of tension-building scenes. As dinner ends, the arrival of a new intoxicated harbinger of dysfunction crashes onto the lawn: college friend Anthony and his new girlfriend Ollie. Anthony carries his capitalist ideologies with the heavy hands of toxic masculinity and Ollie (played by the delightful Ana Fabrega) seems to be an oddly complaisant and out of touch side character hiding in his shadow. This sets in motion a string of bruised egos, polite exclusions, and a host of other nuances that come from being in close quarters with people you’d rather avoid.
A Maine Movie feels reminiscent of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming, but with an unconventional twist.
Nelsen and Schousboe had a distinct vision and precisely executed it. While Nelsen impressively directed, composed, and starred in the film, Schousboe’s skillful cinematography ties the film’s vision up in a neat neo-realistic bow. It is exciting to see how carefully the two creatives worked in order to compliment the story with the camera work. At its core, A Maine Movie is about relationships — and by extension, love. It explores how we form, break, and grow relationships and how other people can influence our perceptions of friends, partners, and new people we meet.
With the open, calming imagery of Maine being juxtaposed against the chaotic, claustrophobic use of hand held shots, both the story and camera movement climax in a beautifully staged and teeth grinding one-shot. A Maine Movie reminds the aspiring filmmaker they don’t need a Hollywood budget to create a visual experience, they just need care, patience, and passion.
To perfect the atmosphere, the film’s talented cast of NYC comedians give a powerful performance in their own right. Each character is layered with subtle reactions and complex emotions that any 20-something viewer will recognize in both themselves and others. Additionally, the writers cleverly use audience assumptions of everyday characters, such as the early write-off of Ollie’s intelligence, to surprise and challenge expectations. Each character we think we understand leaves us shocked and puzzled, daring us to think twice about the strangers we often encounter.
What adds so much to this film is that, for the first time in a long while, I was able to witness and feel a group of friends truly enjoying themselves both on and off camera. While this film may not have the production value or theatrics we have become accustomed to in mainstream media, it has one thing that has grown increasingly sterile: heart.