Monday, February 4, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Imaginary Order

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Imaginary Order
Directed by Debra Eisenstadt
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Midlife crises are common in film, though the circumstances that provoke them can be extremely diverse. A sense that life isn’t going anywhere is usually most prominent in prompting someone to do things that aren’t at all characteristic, and the acceleration of events around them that don’t propel them forward in any way can also contribute. Often, such journeys are sensationalized in film, especially independent dramas, with some truly peculiar decisions from which a person shouldn’t actually be able to come back. That can work on occasion, but in other cases, it’s an illogical mess.

Cathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a stay-at-home mom whose husband Matthew (Steve Little) has little interest in her and whose thirteen-year-old daughter Tara (Kate Alberts) is drifting further away from her every day. While she is cat-sitting for her sister (Catherine Curtin), Cathy meets her eccentric neighbor Gemma Jean (Christine Woods), who introduces her to unexpected activities she hasn’t contemplated in a long time. Losing her grip on normalcy, Cathy gets too comfortable with Gemma Jean’s husband Paul (Graham Sibley) and even begins a friendship that borders on extremely inappropriate with their antisocial son Xander (Max Burkholder).

This is a film that starts out from an interesting point, finding Cathy utterly bored by her life but not yet cognizant that there’s anything she can do about it. Gemma Jean opens her up to a different way of thinking about things, one which is immediately alarming because of the complete lack of consistency and responsibility in her operational manner. Once Cathy starts to realize that she can act however she wants, she begins down a questionable path, one that encounters numerous strange events that are both odd and unconnected.

The notion of this film might have made sense based on a plot summary, but it goes very quickly downhill as Cathy begins to do things outside of her normal mode. McLendon-Covey, who stars on “The Goldbergs,” delivers a decent lead performance, and Woods is wide-eyed and entertaining, but their characters are so broadly written that it’s hard to predict anything that they’re going to do, and not in a good way. This film feels fully out of control, steered by a desire to startle and amuse but so devoid of any coherence or logic that its eventual resolution is utterly unsatisfying. This is a concept gone wrong, one that seems like it might be headed somewhere until it proves that it truly is not.


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