AFF Review: Grapefruit

Rosanna Arquette is tenderly flawed in this addiction dramedy

Chase Joliet and Rosanna Arquette in Grapefruit

God help me, but I’ll always keep an open mind when it comes to actors making their directorial debuts. There’s something appealing about the notion of a performer – who interprets the script and translates the distance between camera and person into magic – taking those lessons behind the camera themselves.

But not every performer needs to be an Orson Welles; sometimes it’s better to be a Clint Eastwood. Grapefruit is proof that writer-director-star Chase Joliet has talent, even if three hyphens are one hyphen too many.

After being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, nobody expected Travis (Joliet) to qualify for early parole. But when Travis turns up on the doorstep of his mother, Evelyn (Rosanna Arquette), the two must quickly find their rhythm as they navigate his reentry into society. Evelyn also offers her AA group as a haven for her son, and soon he has struck up a friendship with Billie (Steph Barkley), an infrequent attendee who seems to possess all the liveliness that Travis has lost. Before long, Travis finds himself caught between two women who both see something worth saving – even as he hopes to fade into the background of his life.

Evelyn is a character designed to steal the show, but one still has to appreciate how measured Arquette is in her performance. This is a woman who has been through hell and comes out sober on the other side, and Arquette imbues her with a self-controlled fragility that speaks to the fullness of that journey. She is adrift at sea but also understands the sheer success of just being above water. Having her mannerisms be new to Travis – who only knew her mother as an alcoholic before he went behind bars – offers Arquette and Joliet the right balance of familiarity and distance in their scenes together.

Billie, on the other hand, is the most stock manic pixie dream girl to grace our screen in years. In one scene, she rips pages from a library book and pops them into her mouth, wondering aloud about the flavors of the tree they had once been. In another, she fakes an orgasm in a restaurant to shock Travis into playing along with the social game she had dreamed up. What little we learn about her over the course of the film – that she had a bad father, that she’s an addict – seems selected more to rend Travis’ heart than build up her own backstory.

When Arquette is onscreen, Joliet’s screenplay finds a quiet kind of resonance in the parallel arcs of redemption between mother and son. But rather than avoid or subvert the conventions of a decade of twee independent films, Joliet seems determined to repeat them. One also has to wonder whether a story of reentry was the right framework for the film; Travis’ tragic backstory seems designed only to make him sad, not to shed any real light on the emotional burden of reintegrating with a community that now holds you at a distance.

Any film written, directed, and starring a single performer is bound to be a little self-indulgent, and Joliet offsets some of these script issues with a gentle eye for signature indie film moments. One standout takes place outside a neighbor’s home at night, where Travis uses the contrasted lighting as an excuse to observe a normal family in motion. But rather than coalesce his skills as a cinematic powerhouse, Grapefruit only serves to segment his abilities. Director Joliet and actor Joliet both have a presence in this industry, but not every filmmaker needs to be a triple-hyphenate. Two is more than enough.


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