Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 28, 2022 3:52 pm 
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A wild lapsed Mormon comes home for a dying father

Emma Thatcher apparently wrote, directed, edited, and stars as Elizabeth, or Liz, the blowzy, dissolute thirty-something bleach-blonde main character, who goes on a road trip from Chicago to Utah with sex partner Geoffrey (Hunter Bryant) when she learns her estranged Morman father is dying of cancer and in hospice care at his home in Provo. In short, a road trip, and aside from the occasional blip, a moment of over-imaginative editing, and a dull ending, this is a distinctive one.

Yet nobody knows anything about this film, or has said anything about it on the internet, except for Natt J. Weinstein, a User reviewer on [url=""]IMDb[/url], who saw it at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in late July and wrote a glowing little review of it, calling it "genuinely authentic and compelling." Indeed, the oddball interactions of Liz and Geoffrey, who urges Liz to make the trip to Provo and offers to keep her company, are often surprising and specific in ways that happen only in the best movies. Weinstein mentions Five Easy Pieces, Sideways, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

Liz is a party girl. She wakes and bakes, really throws back the booze, and is promiscuous. It all seems to be a reaction to the trauma of growing up under a very strict Mormon father in Utah. She gets the news about her father's imminent demise from a step-sister, Kathryn (Jessica Ervin), whom she has never met but automatically dislikes, and who says she should come to say goodbye to their father. She brings a package to Liz's apartment in Humboldt Park. It's a framed picture of the Mormon founder Joseph Smith, a "slap in the face," someone says later. When the goodnatured Geoffrey, after sex with Liz, hears about her father, he is enthusiastic about going.

Geoffrey, a sophisticated African American, talks hip, but is a self-confessed "nerd." He drinks, but not on Liz's level, and he doesn't smoke cigarettes or dope. He had a nice father. He's not messed-up and is a more grownup person, good-natured. Why is he so attracted to Liz? Well, opposites attract. A moment of truth comes when during the trip - which includes some quite specific motels - he suggests that when they get back in Chicago the two start to date, even long-term. Liz spots that he's even envisioning marriage and he admits that he loves her. What perhaps should happen then is that they'd have a huge blowup and she'd short circuit his love; at least it should get more complicated now. Instead Liz does a brief runner but they're soon back on the road as befpre and it's simply left up in the air.

Liz curses Kathryn and gives the impression her father was a monster (though she won't go into details, simply relishing the idea of throwing the little framed Joseph Smith portrait, which she's brought along, in "his dying face." It is therefore wonderfully satisfying for us when she gets the call from Kathryn and learns her dad has died and bursts into tears and cries and cries. She does definitely want to go to the funeral, and this never wavers.

All these scenes of course are staged in Liz's car, in motels, by the side of the road, alternating with glimpses of flat grassland or nighttime with the two travelers in silhouette. This all works well, though the score were not a little loud. One of the best moments of the whole film comes is when Liz and Geoffrey stay with Jordan (Jay Hobson), Liz's liberal Mormon cousin on her mom's side and his girlfriend Lindsey (Bailey Castle) who are "living in sin," have a little kid who has nightmares, and drink beer and coffee. They are "boring as fuck," LIz and Geoffrey confide on the single couch they've crowded onto, breaking Mormon rules against bed before marriage, but "seem really happy" though Liz and Geoffrey also think that may be fake. Real or fake, the couple and their little girl are precise, lifelike creations, a final proof of the filmmaker's skill at casting, writing, and direction in this little film that makes conventional situations come alive. Emma Thatcher deserves more attention.

Provo, 87 mins., debuted July 9, 2022 at Cheyenne (Wyoming International Film Festival), where it won Best Narrative Feature, Best Actress, and the Audience Award; later in July at the Chicago Underground Film Festival; and at half a dozen other US festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 6-16, 2022).

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