The consensus on this seems to be that it’s purely vapid garbage that signals the death of modern American independent cinema. While I understand why this sentiment is expressed, I, none the less, can’t say I can disagree with it anymore. While it’s far from a masterpiece, it’s even further from being a completely empty and useless experience. Sure, there’s hardly a story and sure, there’s nothing really revealed about the protagonist but it ultimately works under the umbrella of “pragmatic” cinema, which is to say, it captures the essence of life.
In what was perhaps inevitable, this film gets lumped together in the “mumblecore” pile, but it (nor any film really) deserves that simplistic classification. Sure, it’s a movie about wayward youth and has plenty of awkward interactions, but unlike the films of Swanberg and company, this one isn’t driven by the dialogue. In fact, the talking that we do get is hard to really hear and even then, it’s mostly characters just making conversation. This probably sounds mind-numbing to some. To those people, don’t watch this movie. You’ll only be proving yourself right.
Even in defending the movie, I have to admit that it is too low-key and uneventful to really hit any sort of emotional home run. Being a pragmatic movie would imply that the surface is only given. There’s certainly no monologues about the chaos of the human soul or some cumbersome bullshit like that. Even though it lacks the tension (and critical acclaim) of say, Ozu’s work, it works in the same sort of way. It’s a personal movie, but it’s one in which we ultimately know nothing about the protagonist except that she likes to steal and that’s she (possibly) sort of stupid.
This brings in perhaps the film’s biggest (and/or best) selling point and that is its lead, Eleonore Hendricks. It probably says more about me than the film itself that something so plotless can be so enthralling as long as the girl is pretty. She’s still fascinating, though, what with her naive child-like perception of things. She’s an “it” girl in the truest sense, but she’s been relocated into a movie that doesn’t have the whimsical charm of her personality.
It’s a tough movie to put into words. The soundtrack is provided by the Beets, a Captured Tracks band that seems to produce music that is simultaneously beautiful and awkward. I think that’s the best way to describe Safdie’s film. It’s a bit uncomfortable (just read any review at imdb) but for those that can take a movie devoid of the conventions of storytelling, they’ll see something beautiful. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a solid effort and about a hundred times more interesting than whatever its naysayers are championing.