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What happens when you don’t keep up with your relatives?

“I Used to be Darker,” an atmospheric Sundance Film Festival favorite about a very extended family, proposes that it could trigger all sorts of unforeseen consequences, some of them positive.

When Taryn (Deragh Campbell), a Northern Irish runaway, turns up at the Baltimore home of aunt Kim (Kim Taylor) and uncle Bill (Ned Oldham), she has no clue that they’re in the midst of dividing their fortunes and breaking up.

Kim is a singer-songwriter who still has something like a career; Bill is a songwriter who’s become a slave to office work; and they’re reluctantly sharing the experience of a midlife crisis with their daughter Abby (Hannah Gross), who is just home from college.

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In several musical sequences, their devotion to their craft couldn’t be clearer. These are at first separated from the narrative, but eventually they suggest a fuguelike quality, especially in the seemingly spontaneous finale.

The visual style of third-time director Matthew Porterfield (“Putty Hill,” “Hamilton”)
is emphatically lyrical, beginning with a widescreen shot of a Maryland Ferris wheel that suggests a celebration of Americana. At the same time, it hints, like the stressed-out Taryn (especially well-played by Campbell), at a side that used to be darker.

Some scenes flirt with cliché: Bill raging and busting up his guitar, Taryn’s admission that she’s pregnant by a boy she’d like to forget, the emergence of “Danny Boy” during a piano lesson.

But the cinematography by Jeremy Saulnier (“In Our Nature”) consistently finds ways of making the formulaic seem genuine.

John Hartl:

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