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Awesome: 28.81%
Worth A Look: 25.42%
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7 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Off the Map
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Some movies shouldn't be seen more than once"
3 stars

Over the years, I have built up a series of rules that govern how I approach the fine art of moviegoing. For example, I will not go to a film on a major holiday (with the occasional exception of New Year’s Day). I will not go to see anything made by Henry Jaglom. (I just don’t like his stuff and I see no reason to waste his time or mine.) Most importantly, at least for the purposes of this review, is my vow that if I see a film in a festival setting, I will do whatever I can to see it again before actually sitting down to review it.

The theory behind that reasoning is twofold. On the one hand, if I am in a situation where I am watching four or five movies a day for an extended period, there is a very real chance of burnout and by watching it again later, I can more fairly judge a film on its own merits. On the other hand, sometimes the heady nature of a film festival, with crowds consisting almost entirely of passionate film fans, can sometimes affect perceptions and by looking at it again divorced from all that, I can see whether my original enthusiasm (either positive or negative) still holds. Most of the time, my reaction is usually the same but every once in a while, I find that I have had a wildly different reaction. When I first saw “Swingers” at the end of a long festival day, I thought it was an insufferably smug bit of tripe and only later did I recognize it for its sly humor. On the other hand, I was reasonably entertained by “The Cider House Rules” the first time I saw it, but now you couldn’t pay me to sit through it again even if you promised that Charlize Theron would be my seatmate.<

Campbell Scott’s latest directorial effort “Off the Map” is one of those films that falls into the latter category. When I first saw it in 2003 at the Chicago International Film Festival, it was a fun screening, the crowd was enthusiastic and I found myself responding to all of the performances and the off-beat rhythm of the story. Watching it again a couple of weeks ago, however, the film began to drive me up the wall before the first reel had ended. What had once felt fresh and intriguing now came off as hopelessly stagy and predictable and, with a couple of exceptions, the performances now struck me as annoyingly one-note theatrics. Could I have been so completely blinded by the cheerful crowd I had seen it with, not to mention the cute festival volunteer that I had an earnest pre-show discussion about the merits of Luc Besson, that I couldn’t notice what now seemed like deeply obvious flaws? Was I just having a bad, usher-free day? Was I so discombobulated by seeing “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”, which immediately proceeded the screening, that it would have been impossible for me to respond positively to anything? I dunno, but I do know that the film that I had sort of affectionately built up in my mind over the past 18 months was not the one that unspooled a couple of weeks ago.<

Set in the summer of 1973, the film focuses on the Grodens, a family living in the desert outside of Taos on a farm without any amenities, living off of the land and more or less isolating themselves from the world around them. Mom (Joan Allen) is a literal Earth mother given to gardening in the raw. Dad (Sam Elliott) is in the throes of a serious depression that no one can seem to snap him out of. 12-year-old Bo (Vanessa de Angelis) is, not surprisingly, none too thrilled with these circumstances and endlessly plots and schemes her escape into the real world and creature comforts like electricity and credit cards; as a side gig, she bilks companies out of free goods by sending them fake complaint letters. Inevitably, this is one of those movie summers where nothing is quite the same once it ends; much of this is the result of the appearance of an IRS agent (Jim True-Frost) who comes to audit the family. Perhaps delirious from being repeatedly stung by bees upon his arrival (let’s just say he saw Mom gardening), he falls in love with the Grodens lifestyle and winds up staying with them while pursuing his dream of being an artist.

Betraying its stage origins at nearly every turn, the screenplay by Joan Ackerman (based on her play) is a hopelessly stagy bit of fluff where every single line sounds like something endlessly honed over a typewriter by a writer trying to approximate what homespun plain speech sounds like despite having no particular ear for it. It is all that the actors can do to struggle to make their characters seem like plausible people and it is a testament to the considerable strengths of Allen and Elliott that they come pretty close to pulling that considerable trick. As for the other characters, de Angelis winds up grating on the nerves after a while (though this seems to be more the fault of a screenplay that gives her nothing to do but act annoyingly precocious at every turn) while True-Frost is stuck playing a part that is frankly more of a conceit than a character and when his story takes its inevitably tragic late-inning twist, there is just no reason to care about what happens to him, rendering the final scenes kind of pointless.

And yet, I cannot deny the fact that I did genuinely respond to “Off the Map” the first time I saw it and there are still some aspects that I admired on the second viewing–mostly the performances by Allen and Elliott and the lovely cinematography. So how should I finally judge it; by my initial reaction, where I would have given it a firmly positive nod, or by the follow-up reaction, which would have been exactly the opposite. In fairness, I suppose that I’ll have to split it right down the middle; those with a taste for off-beat fare should probably round up by a star while those who prefer their off-beat fare to have a point to it should probably round it down by one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6817&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/10/05 23:22:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.

User Comments

12/13/17 Tom B An incredulous and downright annoying waste of time. 1 stars
8/29/13 Tammy Woodall Different, but real. Great acting. 4 stars
6/23/10 Tina Corry Have seen it three times and want to see it again! 5 stars
8/03/06 mike norwood a truly unique film............worth buying and watching again and again 5 stars
6/19/06 keri ross awe inspiring. i immediately went back to the vid store and asked if i could buy it. i did. 5 stars
12/10/05 Brian Excellent 5 stars
12/01/05 George A wonderful film,great acting - see it, its worth it 5 stars
4/14/05 Frank Holmes A wonderfully-engaging filme 4 stars
3/26/05 C. Donovan Awakened the "Tahiti Syndrome" in me! 5 stars
10/31/04 Jim Walker one of the most loving films i've ever seen 5 stars
10/09/04 J.J.Grodon the Puppeter very intriguing and moved me to read the screenplay 4 stars
10/20/03 shannon loved it! don't miss this one. a must see. 5 stars
10/13/03 Michael Barrett Intensely Besutiful, can't wait to see it again!! 5 stars
1/30/03 joe smith it sucks 1 stars
1/27/03 Tom Principe I saw it at Sundance....all I can say is it was the best I've seen, including the majors. 5 stars
1/26/03 M. Boyle The Actual Star of Sundance 2003 5 stars
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  11-Mar-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2005



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