At first glance, this title seems long and difficult to remember. I had to repeat it several times when telling friends about this movie. I had to repeat it several times to myself when I first started to think about writing this review. Maybe it’s my age, I don’t know, but while the clunky title may be hard to remember, the movie is not. This is a Netflix movie worth seeing.
This is writer/director Macon Blair’s debut feature film and what a job he’s done! Set in a small town in what looks like any Midwestern town, the film follows Ruth Kimke played soulfully by Melanie Lynskey as she wanders through her mediocre life. Single, lonely, living in what seems to be her parent’s dated, old 1970’s home, and working as a nursing assistant in a local hospital, Ruth lives in a world she no longer recognizes.
Her day begins with an elderly patient who, while watching the end of a car chase on the local news, spews a veritable cornucopia of racial slurs and bizarre sexual content that would make a porn star blush. Grandma’s mean and disgusting! She then promptly dies while Ruth is in the room. Ruth has to tell the doctor and the woman’s son, and when he asks if she had any last words her tactful, merciful response is simply to shake her head.
The day just keeps getting better when Ruth returns home to find that someone has ransacked her house, and stolen some anti-depressant medication as well as her laptop and most disturbingly, her grandmother’s silver. She’s heartbroken and rattled, and the police are no help when they callously point out that it could have all been avoided if she had just locked her back door. The scene is so realistically played out by all involved. It’s sad and funny and infuriating: All those emotional beats are hit as we watch the police blame her for someone else’s misdeed, and not so subtly admit that they plan to do nothing about it. Apparently, there are other, more important crimes to be solved. She shouldn’t have been so stupid, trusting, naive, fill in with any adjective, none of them are good.
And so begins Ruth’s decent or assent depending on your point of view into vigilantism, and this is where the story gets really interesting. She accidentally recruits a neighbor, played brilliantly by Elijah Wood, who dabbles in martial arts, to help her retrieve her things after her laptop locator goes off on her phone. After a painfully funny scene on the phone where Ruth tries to convince the police to do their job and retrieve her phone for her, at an exact address she can give them, Ruth hurls herself headlong into getting her stuff back and thus, getting back some control over her life.
The ensuing events, both comical and gut wrenchingly honest, transport her into a complicated world of pawn shops, drugs and eventually, murder. However, what gives this film its depth and human dimension is its exploration into Ruth’s existential crisis, as beautifully portrayed in the scene where Ruth is reading a bedtime story to her friend’s five-year-old daughter. The scene couldn’t be better written or acted, for writer, Macon Blair seems to understand that it is in those moments of simple, pure interaction that we find ourselves most vulnerable. As Ruth reads a science book to the little girl about our infinite universe, all seems random and meaningless, and she breaks down, crying.
Director, Macon Blair and cinematographer, Larkin Seiple construct a visually honest and straight forward story. Seiple uses the wide shots and long lenses for the scenes in which we are to feel Ruth’s detachment from those around her. It’s an effective visual strategy. He uses sound to mirror the emotion of the moment: The neighbors talking and laughing with friends while Ruth stands alone in her backyard, the window screen banging against the frame as Ruth slowly walks down the hallway to confront the burglar.
In contrast, when Ruth and Tony (Elijah Wood) come back home from their first foray into vigilantism, the Cajun music roars, and their dancing is framed in close, hand held shots.
Does our heroin find meaning in life? Does she find closure in confronting the people who stole from her? You’ll have to see for yourself. But one thing’s for sure, the story and cinematic journey are worth the trip.