Anton Yelchin and I haven’t had a good track record with his films that premier at the Tribeca Film Festival. First with the mopey 5 to 7 and now, more recently, with last year’s aimless, bizarre fairy tale The Driftless Area. With a title that is almost comically on the nose, the combined charms of Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, Frank Langella and Alia Shawkat can’t save this meandering, insipid drama and it’t tough not to ask “how”the talent on board could be so thoughtlessly squandered.
Directed by Zachary Sluster, the film follows Pierre (Yelchin) an apathetic bartender who has recently come back home following the death of his parents. After an unfortunate, and oddly hilarious run in with local criminal Shane (John Hawkes) and the mystical Stella (Deschanel) who may or may not be a ghost, his life takes a dangerous turn.
The ghost story elements and mysticism are too thinly explored to salvage the thoughtless dialogue and leading actors who seem to be sleepwalking through the film. Yelchin, typically an engaging performer who wears his vulnerabilities on his sleeve (see Green Room for reference) is distant in the film, delivering lines in a monotonous droll. Deschanel fairs no better, having been asked to deviate from her more manic, wide eyed tics for a character subdued and enigmatic and the result is wooden. A shame, considering this has been one of her few film roles since starting New Girl. The only spark of life comes from Shawkat in a limited, supporting turn that still manages to brighten up the screen whenever she appears.
There’s remarkably little to love in a picture as aimless as The Driftless Area, especially when we can’t even find it in us to be engaged in the main romance between Pierre and Stella. Both much more interesting apart, the only reason they gravitate towards one another is because the overarching plot dictates it. Apart Stella becomes a woman searching for answers not only about her past but about who she is moving forward. Similarly, there was a persistent sadness underlying all of Pierre’s earlier scenes and the film would have been better if it had decided to tell the story about these two characters running parallel to one another before they converged. Instead, their own personal traumas are discarded for a burgeoning, ill placed romance which leads us nowhere. Not quite as damning is the film’s inability to stick to a tone. The first meeting between Pierre and Shane strikes an absurdist note so that when the rest of the dour, melancholic film follows it’s easy to wonder what we might have been missing.
It looks great at the very least. Cinematographer Daniel Valdheim captures some beautiful imagery, with plenty of blues seeping through the screen. The environment and the small community they live in is the most realistic aspect of the film in which every decision and character motivation is questionable at best and ludicrous at worst. Valdheim breathes a bit of soul into the overgrown locations.
A film that appears to have simply gone through the paces rather than one with the intention to tell a story or serve any sort of purpose, The Driftless Area is a waste of every talent on board.
The Driftless Area is out in limited release now.