I’m starting out bold, because there’s no other way to say it: What a gorgeous, gorgeous movie.
I hope this thing gets a massively wide release, because it’s a beautiful story that elegantly tackles something very specific and possibly pretentious. Rebecca Hall, whom I’ve honestly confused with a bunch of people over the years–she looks like the lead singer of Lake Street Dive, and Whitney Cummings, and many others, and this is all compliments to all of them–plays Hannah, widow of an Elliott Smithy, Bon Ivery, Ray Lamontagney (one of the truer inspirations, according to director Sean Mewshaw) singer/songwriter named Hunter. Her husband released one great, touted, revered, magical album, and then mysteriously died somewhere in the depths of hiking on Tumbledown mountain, where she’s from and to where they had retreated after getting married. Hannah is a radiant person, but the way Hall plays her, it’s clear that the radiance left as soon as he did. She busies herself writing small pieces for the local newspaper, and has dogs, but she seems to be biding her time before the mourning really, truly starts. It’s been a few years, too.
And then good ol’ Jason Sudeikis walks in, with his impeccable comedic timing and even more impressive sensitivity. I love how his career has progressed thus far. He’s gone from being this guy to this guy and he can pull all of it off with aplomb. He plays Andrew McDonnell, a professor who wants to write a book about Hunter. He’s got a great city life, a great city girlfriend, and he takes a break from it all to pursue this writing project, admittedly, because he got an advance, but also because he’s a true devotee of Hunter’s music. He treks up to Hannah, and after a lot of back and forth, they agree to work together on the book.
It might be predictable what happens next. And the thing you think happens, happens. But it’s handled so nicely. It doesn’t feel wrong, ever, or rushed, or dishonorable. No one’s hurt by the circumstances. And the music is really the standout feature of this movie. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to select the music for something like this; Hunter really is the central character in the movie, but he’s dead, and so he has to live through something epic. I stayed for the Q&A afterward, hoping for a glimpse at Sudeikis, but instead I got a bit of the backstory on the music. Just as worth it! The artist is Damien Jurado, and I think it’s a good thing that they chose someone who’s name and voice aren’t instantly recognizable. Were it actually Lamontagne, it wouldn’t have been believable for a second because we’d know who it is. Jurado’s voice is haunting and tragic, and lends itself to this kind of martyr-esque storyline. I can’t wait for the soundtrack to be released.
Hall and Sudeikis also have a nice chemistry. It develops a lot more organically than most movie romances that originate in opposition–they spend a lot of hours in close quarters with one another, feeling each other out, trying to get the best work out of each other for the sake of documenting the brief life of a musical genius. Hannah is so deeply ensconced in grief and denial that she takes awhile to even recognize what’s happening. And Andrew is perfectly content with his life, and such a devotee of the music, that he doesn’t quite see it, either. He’s just happy to have found a true passion project. The nice thing is that for Mewshaw and his co-writer, his wife Desiree Van Til, it’s their passion project, too.
And thus ends my very-late-and-only-possibly-worth-the-wait Tribeca Film Festival series of unsolicited reviews. I can’t wait to laugh, cry, and judge mercilessly some more next year.