Rambler, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/07/13 02:01:27
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 15: Much of the time, a movie that was expanded from a short will feel bloated and kind of boring, as though the striking idea behind the original work has been watered down and made bigger without gaining more detail (last year's BUFF selection "Excision" struck me that way). For "The Rambler", that may be a plus - could a twelve-minute film really capture the vastness and leisurely pace of the title characters rambling the way that this movie does?The rambler of the title (Dermot Mulroney) is a quiet man with a way with horses who has just been released from prison to an obnoxious wife (Natasha Lyonne) and a miserable job in a pawn shop. Fortunately, there is another option - a job on his brother's horse farm in the northwest. Not starting out with much, if any, cash, he opts to walk and hitchhike, encountering a girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) and an inventor who claims he can record dreams (James Cady) among others. The further he gets down the road, the more surreal his adventures become.
At times, things become downright fantastical. Things don't get quite strange enough for the genre to take a full right turn into sci-fi, horror, or the like, but it's enough to push our conception of what writer/director Calvin Reeder is getting at. We're never really told what this man was in prison for, but there are enough hints through repeated encounters of various natures to work the basics out, although that's not those scenes' only purpose; even as they're only vaguely implying what happened, they're also saying that it's something he can't escape in his mind. The very strangeness of some events suggests that after four years behind bars, he doesn't fit in the world - or at least, doesn't think he does.
Then again, for all that such ideas may be trying to sneak their way into the audience's mind, there's no harm in enjoying what's going on as occasionally self-aware weirdness. Loud noises tend to pop up on the soundtrack at any point when the audience might learn the unimportant detail of the title character's actual name, and one character half-winks at the audience when telling the rambler that "I'm completely untrustworthy". Sometimes a situation will resolve itself with cartoonish violence; sometimes Reeder will extract tragedy or melancholy out of a scenario that's just as unrealistic. It's a dark sort of comedy as likely to elicit a reaction of "well, that was weird" as opposed to laughter, but it keeps the viewer on his or her toes.
For all that the characters who populate it can be nameless avatars, they're also enjoyably individual. Mulroney gives the title character a weathered man-of-few-words gruffness, but does it by reducing reactions as opposed to suppressing them - there's not much hidden about this guy, even if he doesn't shout his story. Lindsay Pulsipher, meanwhile, makes the girl who catches his eye on the road sweet and somewhat idealized but never perfect or bland; she's good at making the audience wonder if her character is more than she appears to be. James Cady gives the scientist a contagious enthusiasm that seems to increase to cover sadness, while Scott Sharotis charming for being up front about being up to no good.
And then, of course, there's the West. It's the sort of distinct environment that often gets called "another character", but I think that diminishes what a setting brings to a movie that a character can't. It's just there and endless and utterly passive, not wanting anything. the space and the quiet with just occasional outcroppings of humanity is shot beautifully by cinematographer Dave McFarland and gives the traveler time to spend in his own head for better or for worse. Reeder lets its undemanding nature dedicate the pace and personality of the film; things never seem hurried along although they do keep moving, and there's a romantic simplicity to the letters that function as narration.So it's strange, but it's a quiet strangeness, with the same sort of beauty as an endless landscape whose variations are subtle things. For some, it may be too odd and relaxed - it's a bit trying as a midnight movie - but it's also rather enjoyable even when one's brain is at half-speed from a full day of festival films.
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