Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
|Featuring:||Valentina de Angelis, Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Amy Brenneman, J.K. Simmons|
|Producer:||Campbell Scott, George Van Buskirk|
The New Mexico desert plays home to a family of eccentrics in Campbell Scott’s new film “Off the Map.” Joan Allen (“The Upside of Anger”) stars as Arlene Groden, a free-spirited descendant of Hopi Indians who lives like a hippie on little income with her husband Charley, played by Sam Elliot (“We Were Soldiers”), and their 11 year-old daughter Bo, played by Valentina de Angelis.
Charley is suffering from a paralyzing depression, sitting around the small, electricity-less house, staring off into space, crying off and on for no reason in particular. He doesn’t know why he is suffering from this, and neither does his family.
Bo is an intellectual, curious child who wants desperately to leave the desert of New Mexico and start somewhere new, with the help of the new “Mastercharge” card she received in the mail. She spends most of her days either hunting in the desert, searching with her mom through the garbage at the local dump, or writing letters to various food companies describing horrible things she discovered in their products, in hopes of receiving lots of free samples.
Their quiet, simple existence is interrupted when William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), an IRS agent, wanders into their world to audit them. When he arrives, he sees Arlene in her garden, nude, watching a coyote hunt a rabbit. While watching, he is stung by bees, which he apparently has an allergy to. He lies down on the couch, and spends the next month or so tossing and turning, delirious with fever.
He is a lost soul, searching for something to make his existence worthwhile; he has spent most of his life feeling responsible for his mother’s suicide and is suffering from his own brand of depression because of it. One of the film’s best scenes has Charley, who hasn’t talked until this point in the movie, offering William a glass of water in the middle of the night. He asks William “Have you ever been depressed?,” to which a still somewhat out of it William responds “I’ve never not been.”
The two seem to find a kind of solace in each other’s misery, and the new friendship seems to be a healing source for Charley.
William doesn’t want to leave the simple life he has found. He doesn’t plan on going back to his job, and declares to Arlene that he has been in love with her since the moment he saw her in the garden. A lot of films would have taken this and created a secret affair between the two, or turned it into a weird love triangle, but not this one. Her response is short, simple and to the point. She tells him that what he is feeling is probably not love, but a result of the power that New Mexico can have on people.
“Off the Map” is mesmerizing, in an odd sort of way. I watched the first half-hour or so as mostly an outsider; the film was interesting in its eccentricity, but hadn’t quite pulled me into it. But, once the aforementioned scene between Charley and William takes place, the rest of the film captured me in its grasp, and led me to a fascinating final act.
The film is rated PG-13, and contains a relatively small amount of profanity, with some uses of the Lord’s name in vain. There is female nudity, in the scene in the garden, and it isn’t just a quick flash. The scene lasts about a minute, and we see just about everything. The nudity is not needed, and the scene itself is a bit bizarre. There are better ways to show Arlene’s quirks than having her garden naked. Other than that, the characters drink some alcohol, but there isn’t a whole lot else.
Children and most teenagers probably won’t be interested in seeing this film .
I spent 9 years of my childhood, from third grade through my junior year of high school, living in the vast desert of New Mexico. We moved there from Florida, and for a kid going from the beach to the desert, it was not a fun move. My siblings and I spent our summers dreaming of getting out of the Land of Enchantment and going anywhere else. But what always struck me was what would happen when family members and friends from other states would visit us. They would always be so, well, enchanted that they would swear they never wanted to leave.
“Off the Map” gets it right by allowing the desert of New Mexico to be one of the strongest characters in the film, because there is something beautiful about that great vast desert. And while this film doesn’t recognize it as God’s work, it at least recognizes its beauty, which is a start.
“Off the Map” isn’t for everyone, and most won’t bother seeing it. But there is something special about this film, and it may be worth a look for those who are looking for something a little different.
Violence: None / Profanity: Mild / Sex/nudity: Moderate
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