Getting Cozy with Reichardt
Whether or not it was director Kelly Reichardt's intention but what she has down with "River of Grass" is take an established movie idea, man and woman on the run, and rather than try and match those big famous movies made it smaller. Sounds different and sounds brave especially as "River of Grass" was Reichardt's directional debut but it works because by making it smaller and less about portraying this couple on the lam as typical anti-heroes it has a completely different feel. In fact "River of Grass" is part dark comedy as it throws in some moments of humour but at the same time making a comment on how lack of purpose can affect people.
Cozy (Lisa Bowman) is dissatisfied with her life, she got married and had children but doesn't really love her husband or her children and with nothing to do but day dream feels depressed with a lack of purpose. But that all changes when one night she goes to a bar and meets Lee (Larry Fessenden) a drifter with a gun as when they sneak in to use a nearby back garden swimming pool they end up shooting at the owner. Convinced they've murdered him they go on the run completely unaware that not only have they not murdered anyone but that the gun belongs to Cozy's dad a cop who has lost it.
It has to be said that "River of Grass" is most certainly a quirky movie, there is emotionless narration, title cards, drum solos, strange characters and dark humour and it most definitely feels like a low budget production. But that is not a criticism as financial limitations means that every moment has a meaning as there is no money to spare to tart things up. As such it is fair to say that if all you've ever seen are mainstream movies then "River of Grass" will be an experience which you may not get.
Now it is fair to say that "River of Grass" has its flaws, some characters are less defined than other such as Lee the drifter. But in a way this movie is more about Cozy, her life and how going on the lam made her feel, it is Cozy who provides the constant flow of narration and it is this narration which establishes her character. As such in the opening salvo we learn all about her life, how she married but wasn't in love, has children she has no feelings for and generally feels dissatisfied with life all of which is delivered in an almost emotionless voice. But we also learn that the previous resident of the house she lives in murdered her husband and sets up the idea that did a lot of little issues get under the women's skin till she snapped.
What follows on from there is Cozy discovering excitement and some sort of purpose as she meets Lee and after an incident where they think they've killed the owner of a swimming pool go on the run. But where in many movies we would now have a couple of anti-heroes to champion we just have two oddballs, thrown together due to circumstance. We never once champion them despite growing an attachment to Cozy; instead we wonder what foolish thing they will do which will end up in disaster. All of which is darkly funny and Reichardt toys with you a bit with moments of surprise as she turns the table on the norm and trust me the ending will surprise you.
But the thing about "River of Grass" is that whilst we do have various characters from Lee and Cozy's dad everything is about Cozy and whilst Lisa Bowman delivers a good performance she needed more support. It's almost a case that the other characters are background noise and whilst Larry Fessenden does his best to make Lee a quirky character it's not strong enough and ends up coming across too much of a village idiot.
What this all boils down to is that "River of Grass" is an entertaining movie and for a directional debut Kelly Reichardt has done a nice job of delivering a darkly funny take on the cliche man and woman on the lam style movie. But whilst the focus is understandably on Cozy who finds purpose in her dissatisfied life it lacks stronger characters to make it gel.