Off the Map

Off the Map

2003, PG-13, 111 min. Directed by Campbell Scott. Starring Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Valentina de Angelis, J.K. Simmons, Jim True-Frost, Amy Brenneman.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., April 1, 2005

Off the map is right. After kicking around the festival circuit for two years – including a turn at the Austin Film Festival in 2003 – this intriguing ensemble dramedy finally gets a limited release. It’s not perfect and strives too hard to be quirky (consider a minor subplot in which the face of Jesus appears on a tortilla at a roadside diner), but Off the Map is the rare film all its own: wheezing downbeat accordion score, precocious child actress (de Angelis, in her film debut), nude desert gardening, and a wry, left-field sense of humor that punctuates its tale of an off-the-grid family coping with depression and a tax audit. Elliott is pitch-perfect as the dysthymic patriarch, who’s been staring into space and breaking into tears all during a 1970s summer outside of Taos, New Mexico. His daughter Bo and resourceful wife, Arlene (Allen), can’t shake him out of it. But the whole family achieves a sort of equilibrium when a citified tax collector (True-Frost) arrives at their homestead – and stays. The setup for the film is stagy (scribe Joan Ackermann adapts her play to screen), and the script relies too heavily on expository voiceover (by Brenneman, as the adult Bo), but man, what acting. Allen, too often typecast as a priss due to her patrician features and mien of steel-magnolia feminine restraint, has a ball as the unflappable Arlene, a part-Hopi earth mother who casually shoots bears by the outhouse but reaches the end of her tether at last when her husband becomes mentally ill. She’s the linchpin of the movie, keeping it together despite the contrivances of the plot. There’s a fantastic scene – funny, real, yet farcical – in which the tax man reveals an important secret to her, and she’s got to interrupt him long enough to put down the scavenged auto battery she’s holding in her arms. Too bad Scott (directing his third feature) cuts between angles instead of holding on the master: Allen and True-Frost (who starred with Scott in Singles) are in rare form. Ultimately the film manages a warm, offbeat appeal despite its flaws, and it has real heart.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Joan Allen Films
Emma Donoghue's screen adaptation of her bestseller is a knockout

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 6, 2015

Death Race
All the busted heads and blasted gaskets can't turn this makeover of a cult classic into anything but a real drag.

Marc Savlov, Aug. 22, 2008

More by Marrit Ingman
Wonder Stories
Wonder Stories

July 25, 2008

King Corn
The film’s light hand, appealing style, and simple exposition make it an eminently watchable inquiry into the politics of food, public health, and the reasons why corn has become an ingredient in virtually everything we eat.

Nov. 9, 2007


Off the Map, Campbell Scott, Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Valentina de Angelis, J.K. Simmons, Jim True-Frost, Amy Brenneman

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle