God in the Headlights
Missing Pieces is, I’m pretty certain, almost 100% the film that director Kenton Bartlett set out to make.
Now, it’s not often that any filmmaker gets to feel that way about his or her work; it’s even rarer when the film is made with a budget in the tens of thousands of dollars.
At another level, I can’t imagine Bartlett being satisfied with a $4 million or $12 million version of this film. The style and subject matter are ideally matched to its budget—so the “Hey, I know that face from somewhere!” actors, the house-across-the-street sets, and the self-consciously bargain-basement camerawork all play directly into the story that Bartlett tells. I’m not sure exactly what to make of it all (though I have a pretty good guess), but it all gels and clicks effectively in an overtly indie art-film way.
First off: How on Earth did Bartlett manage to cast Mark Boone Junior and Melora Walters as his leads? No, they’re not exactly household names—but these are solid professionals turning in A-list work here. Boone and Walters play a couple on the rocks after David (Boone) suffers an apparent closed-head injury which leaves him unfocused and a little loopy. When Delia ultimately leaves him, he tries to get her back the only way he knows how: he kidnaps a couple of teenagers as a means of recreating Delia’s art. Wacky, right? The film ultimately makes sense out of all that, but to tell you how would spoil things.
Both at the scripting and direction levels, Bartlett takes his cues from his filmmaking idols—and lives up to them. There are obvious internal references (never mind the “thanks” in the credits), for instance, to the films of David Gordon Green, and three of the principal characters are even (partially) named David, Gordon, and Greenly. Another character is named Magnolia (“Maggie”) Anderson. Do the math.
This is a film that Bartlett’s idols would, I think, admire—for its trueness to life, its passion, its resolute artiness, its humanity, and its understanding of emotion and the artistic impulse. This is a ultimately a cosmic love story—not only about “the lost and lonely, and their late-night ways,” as Nick Lowe put it, but about how love works its way out in a divine and mysterious fashion. It’s easy to think that God has it out for us, and that Free Will is a sham, when there really is a grand design behind it all.
If humanity and the cinematic arts are your thing, this may get you.
(Note I originally wrote this review was still on the festival circuit in 2011. Just last week, Missing Pieces made its debut on the Home Video market.)
Missing Pieces is unrated, but a smattering of four-letter words, as I recall, might put it at PG-13. It feels more like PG to me, though.
Courtesy of the film’s director, Greg screened a promotional copy of Missing Pieces.