Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 10 April 2006
Source Washington Square Films 35mm print
Reviews Old Joy by Katherine
The friend of your youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face which does not exist anymore, speaks a name — Spike, Bud, Skip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave — which belongs to that now non-existent face but by some inane and doddering confusion is for the moment attached to a not too happily met and boring stranger.
Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men
While Hollywood has churned out enough films like _ Lethal Weapon_ and Wedding Crashers for Buddy Movies to qualify as a genre of their own, serious explorations of male friendship remain exceedingly rare. It is no surprise, then, that Old Joy, which still lacks a U.S. distributor, comes not out of Los Angeles, but from Portland, Oregon, where director Kelly Reichardt trains her camera on the quietly distraught faces of two men who can’t quite grasp the distance that has grown between them.
Despite his calm façade, one senses anxiety simmering in thirtysomething Mark as he awaits the birth of his first child. In need of a distraction, he agrees to go on a camping trip with his old friend Kurt, who has managed to live a life seemingly free of responsibility. With Air America blasting out the windows of Mark’s Volvo station wagon, the pair ventures into wilderness of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
Their discomfort with each other becomes readily apparent, and Mark’s reticence and (oftentimes, understandable) exasperation seems to grow with each word out of Kurt’s mouth. Thanks to Kurt’s distracting chatter, the two swiftly get lost in the woods. Those who are expecting a Deliverance or Blair Witch-like plot turn will be sorely disappointed, however. Instead, silence fills the screen, and as a result, each word spoken carries a deeper weight.
Kurt, who main preoccupation seems to be making sure there’s enough pot to last the weekend, movingly reveals his frustration at how much he and Mark have grown apart, a charge that Mark unemotionally deflects. It seems that Mark, who treats Air America as his security blanket and proudly recounts his role in establishing a communal garden, can’t seem to find room in his heart to look beyond his friend’s disorganized surface.
That said, neither character is shaded as good or bad; throughout the course of the movie, they both reveal complexities unusual to contemporary American film. These complexities are part of what lend the film its strange, hypnotic feel. As in the films of Terence Malick, plot is a secondary consideration, the sense of place and who these characters are defying conventional description.