By: debbie lynn elias
There is nothing I like better than discovering a little independent gem of a film early on in its journey through the festival skies and see it skyrocket across the country, showering more and more moviegoers with its charm. 2012 kicks off with just that gem – David Spaltro’s THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Retaining the intimate sensibility often associated with independent films, but complimented with high production values and performances, THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND has a “personal touch” that will resonate with something in each of us.
Violet Kubelick’s life is a mess as she seemingly flounders, treading water with every step. With two very eclectic (and likeable) roommates, she finds herself facing an eviction in two months that is compounded by a shortage of funds and the pressures of her graduate thesis which is predicated upon near-death experiences. Her one solace comes from the very secretive and introverted local bartender Parker McNeil. Obviously more than smitten with each other, Violet and Parker form a bond that is both intellectual and almost spiritual in nature, yet both tentatively tip-toe around each other with unsaid emotional trepidation.
As the clock counts down to Christmas, her eviction and her thesis due date, Violet’s life starts to take a different direction as she gets more involved in her thesis, or more appropriately, one of her interview subjects. Chronicling the near death experiences of others, Violet connects with Sara, a young woman dying of Stage 4 cancer. It is through Sara that Violet faces unspoken questions that have plagued her, while developing something that has been lacking in her own life – friendship and love. But what answers, if any, does Violet find? Does she even know what friendship and love are when they knock on her emotional door? And what about that thesis?
Molly Ryman is luminous, more than impressing as the emotionally broken, but brilliant and very pragmatic, Violet. With what could have been portrayed as a character filled with visible frustration and pessimism, Ryman elevates the experience and the performance with Violet’s search for the answers to the universe, making it hopeful and inspiring and done with a catty and wry humorous edge that is welcoming and disarming. Her delivery is razor honed both with her timing and cadence. Ryman makes you “feel.” And the camera LOVES her.
As Sara Lowe, Grace Folsom is a standout. The catalyst through which we see into the true heart and soul of Violet, Folsom goes for the jugular with some particularly heart-wrenching scenes that are not only pivotal to the storyline but drive the film forward. Folsom brings a loving touch of humor to the terminally ill Sara.
Women of the world will fall head over heels for Aaron Mathias and his character, Parker. Tacitly observant, rugged and handsome, he is the epitome of what women dream of when heading out to their local bars. He has a quiet but commanding onscreen presence. And Mathias actually looks as if he cares and is listening when Ryman’s Violet speaks to him. A welcome change from what we usually see on screen and in real life!
A welcome sight is the wonderful Lisa Eichhorn. As Violet’s psychiatrist, Dr. Blankenship, she grounds the story in reality, positing questions that set scenes and give voice to Violet’s unspoken fears. As comes as no surprise, Eichhorn is perfect. Not to be overlooked are Meissa Hampton and Hugo Dillon as Violet’s roomies, Gabby and Remy, who are delicious in their own rights.
Written and directed by Spaltro, THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND eloquently blends universal themes of life and death, family, home, health and heart, set against a backdrop exploration of faith versus logic stemming from Violet’s intellectual obsession and own broken past. What could have been a mish-mash of philosophical double talk is instead an enlightening and engaging moviegoing experience. Spaltro has a distinctive voice that echos in the narrative technique, celebrating all of the elements that life has to offer, finding a quiet balance between sorrow and joy, tragedy and comedy. Particularly notable is his effective use of story conveyance through casual everyday experiences and human contact without making anything feel forced or unnatural. Using the friendship of Sara and Violet, the story opens up, particularly when addressing the question “Is there a God?”, giving heart and gravitas to what could have been a conventional story. And not to be missed is the “vagina” performance piece within the film. Hysterical! Perhaps most intriguing is the Violet-Parker relationship and the secrets that unfold with a powerful climactic scene between the two that Ryman and Mathias simply own.
Key is that the film doesn’t rise and fall on one or two performances. This is truly and ensemble piece with supporting characters that truly enhance the film and serve as its building blocks. Characters, right down to barflies, are believable and rooted in reality. Sub-plots are integral and integrated.
Beautiful, crisp, clean, technically the film is highly polished belieing the typical “lo budget/no budget” experience, something that will undoubtedly be appreciated by moviegoers (and hopefully attract a distributor more quickly). Standout is the work of Cinematographer Gus Sacks and Production Designer Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise. And kudos to Spaltro who easily handles the editing giving THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND an easy even hand.
Wrapping it all up with a big red bow is Vita Tanga’s eclectic and engaging score.
THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND will have you understanding one basic fact at the end of the day – David Spaltro is one helluva storyteller and filmmaker.
Violet – Molly Ryman
Sara – Grace Folsom
Parker – Aaron Mathias
Dr. Blankenship – Lisa Eichhorn
Gabby – Meissa Hampton
Remy – Hugo Dillon
Written and Directed by David Spaltro.