I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.
Directed by Deb Shoval
Young adulthood is an interesting time in a person’s life. After high school, options abound, and higher education and employment are the two most common paths taken by the general population. It can also be a time of extreme aimlessness, with a perception that the future is a far away thing and there is no need to rush to get anywhere. “AWOL” checks in with Joey (Lola Kirke), who lives in rural Pennsylvania and works at an ice cream stand, as she tries to figure out what’s next for her: the army and the chance to leave her home or the inevitability of standing in place and never getting out.
Midway through the film, Joey is told by her brother-in-law that her mother believes she isn’t living up to her potential. Her reaction to that remark is not a good one, since she doesn’t understand why she should be seen as having potential when those around her, namely her brother-in-law and her sister, aren’t held to the same standard and are allowed to live their lives without anyone telling them to accomplish something. As she prepares to enlist in the army so that she can hone her skills fixing cars and have the army pay for college, she meets the alluring Rayna (Breeda Wool), a married mother of two adorable young kids who has only ever left the state once, who makes her reconsider everything.
This film’s title gives away part of its plot, but that doesn’t distract from its effectiveness. Joey is adrift without any sense of purpose, eager for some escape from her life but not truly prepared to effect change. Rayna opens her eyes to a whole new worldview, one which suggests that a human connection may be the most meaningful factor in figuring out her future. When Joey says that she and Rayna should take her daughters and run away from her husband to Vermont, Rayna insists that she doesn’t want to hold Joey back and that she will be right where Joey leaves her when she returns trained and educated.
Kirke, who stars in “Mozart in the Jungle” and had a lead role in “Mistress America,” is exactly the right actress to play the soft-spoken and quietly passionate Joey, who expresses plenty of emotion even if she rarely raises her voice. The breakout star of the film is Wool, who instantly makes Rayna absolutely irresistible to Joey and switches back and forth throughout the film from strong-willed dreamer to helpless housewife destined to fall back into the same unproductive patterns. The film is enthralling and involving, and while its end isn’t exactly satisfying, it’s a very worthwhile journey.