One of last year's most highly praised movies, Kelly Reichardt's "Old Joy," earned rave reviews for its meditative portrayal of two old...
One of last year’s most highly praised movies, Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy,” earned rave reviews for its meditative portrayal of two old friends who go on an Oregon camping trip together and don’t quite make up for lost time.
Last month, it won the Los Angeles Film Critics’ prize for best experimental/independent film (which it shared with “In Between Days”) and earned an Independent Spirit nomination for best feature film made for less than $500,000. Critics have called it “fresh as spring water and warm as sunlight” and “a beautiful, melancholy film that illustrates the inevitable losses that accompany adulthood.”
I couldn’t quite share their enthusiasm when I saw “Old Joy” last spring at the Seattle International Film Festival, but the characters stayed with me, and I’m glad I took a second look now that it’s opening for a two-week run at Northwest Film Forum. This time around, its sense of humor seemed much more effective — as did its less-is-more style.
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“Old Joy,” with Will Oldham, Daniel London. Directed by Kelly Reichardt, from a script by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond. 76 minutes. No rating; includes nudity and drug use. Northwest Film Forum.
The script resembles a road-trip version of “My Dinner With Andre,” with Will Oldham playing spacey Andre and Daniel London as the more practical Wally. The names have been changed, of course, but London’s Mark is just as warmly domestic as Wally, Oldham’s Kurt matches Andre’s transcendental worldview, and their conversations have a similar flow.
Mark is married and looking forward to fatherhood. The pot-addled Kurt, who spends much of his time on the streets, couldn’t be less pragmatic. When he says “Trust me,” watch out.
In perhaps the key scene, Kurt proposes his theory of a “tear-shaped universe,” though he admits he has no numbers to back it up. Mark doesn’t exactly roll his eyes, but he doesn’t have to. Kurt suddenly senses that he’s in danger of losing his old pal, and he becomes quite emotional when he fears abandonment.
Both actors handle the relationship with a delicacy that’s essential. Kurt isn’t always the flake, Mark is not always as stable as he seems, and when they finally find the hot springs Kurt has been talking about, they both achieve a release that seems necessary.
I’m still not sure Reichardt’s minimalist approach works for the film’s finale. We don’t know enough about either character to decide whether this is the end of a friendship or just a fairly normal mini-vacation for these two. In that sense, they’re like any couple whose disagreements, seen at a distance, could meaning nothing — or the end.
John Hartl: email@example.com