Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Starring Daniel London, Will Oldham, Tanya Smith, Robin Rosenberg. (2006, NR, 76 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Nov. 3, 2006
There’s a certain way of adapting a short story that preserves the dramatic economy and narrowed scope of the original format instead of inflating them (improperly) to the epic feature scale. You end up, often, with a shorter movie. This Sundance and SXSW favorite rings in at 76 minutes; it’s in a weight class with Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani – a 76-minute Haruki Murakami adaptation from 2004. Both films are more concerned with exploring a relationship over the course of an hour than they are with advancing a plot; indeed, the slight storylines are punctuated with mistakes and missed connections that don’t necessarily build to a satisfying conclusion. But they are purely immersing small movies that reward open-minded viewing. Old Joy drops into the lives of Mark (London) and Kurt (Oldham), old friends who are growing apart. Mark’s wife (Smith) is pregnant for the first time; he’s working a lot. Kurt’s a Pacific Northwest hippie: rolling joints, taking night classes, going on about his “transformative” trips to Ashland and Big Sur (“I’m in a whole new place now. Really,” he says), and calling on a minute’s notice with an invitation to go camping. Which Mark, of course, accepts after a certain amount of marital agony. The movie dives into the Cascade scenery – Kurt inevitably gets them lost – and mines the tensions between its characters in a naturalistic moment-to-moment fashion. It’s not aimless – there’s a considerable turning point, deftly handled – but Reichardt paces the action deliberately, with a road-trip rhythm, letting the atmosphere soak in. (We could probably do with a little less out-the-window footage with Yo La Tengo on the soundtrack, given the overall economy of screen time.) Oldham is just right: weird but not quite scary, compelling but not quite pushy, and very odd. But the movie belongs to London, the straight man, who’s got a pinched, hangdog quality and a cloud of antenatal doom about him. Old Joy is an accurately observed slice of that moment between postadolescence and parenthood, when friends cling or scatter, and circumstances force buried feelings to the fore.