by Annie Vinton
My take: A Must See
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As an official selection of the 2008 New Hampshire Film Festival (and others including Sundance) Chronic Town proved to a perfect storm of elements comprising an authentic independent flick: conflicted characters; sharp and believable dialogue; and the reveal of major plot twists and turns. At the onset of the film, when the central character Truman (JR Bourne) hitches a ride from the pub on a dog sled against the backdrop of the incredibility expansive and lush landscape of Fairbanks, Alaska it’s clear that he’s not an ordinary man and neither is his life in the Arctic, far away from the stereotypical U.S. suburbs.
Truman’s self selected family is introduced one by one and at first glance, this motley crew may be easily dismissed as a highly dysfunctional bunch, but this is strictly perception. As the drama unfolds and character depths are revealed, regardless of their flaws, we learn each possesses a saneness and rationale for their lot in life. As their journeys intertwine it becomes evident that the common ground amongst them is their plight to navigate the often ominous cold Alaskan temperatures. This ancillary character purposely and sometimes unknowingly dictates the decisions in their lives.
Truman, a part-time cab driver and full time drunk is easily damaged by his girlfriend Emily (Stacy Edwards) who blindsides him one evening in his cab with the declaration of, “I don’t love you any more.” Unsuccessfully he attempts to win her back with his narcissistic pleas of his impending loneliness. When this fails, feeling defeated, he seeks immediate solace and refuge at the bar with his friend Faraday (Jeffrey Scott Jensen) and bartender Max (Ian Gregory.) When the alcohol won’t erase her from his memory, he swallows some bad acid, slits his wrist and collapses in a snow bank half naked.
He’s then shipped off to a mental health facility and although we’ve already seen him habitually welcome the cold for isolation, he refutes this in group therapy with the revelation that he’s “incapable of being alone.” He cures this by soliciting warmth from fellow patient Eleanor (Emily Wagner) who is a depressive stripper and at one time a passenger in his cab.
Upon release, Truman immediately returns to the bar surrounding himself with familiarity and continues to use alcohol to stabilize his neurosis and numb his pain, but he’s still on the hook for his outpatient therapy dictated by his doctor (Garry Marshall.) He’s ordered to spend time at a retirement home and develops a friendship with Elizabeth (Alice Drummond), a lonely woman with slight dementia using the four walls she lives within to insulate and protect her from the cold which she’ll no longer venture. She spouts unsolicited advice and words of wisdom and he deifies her; however this is later shattered.
The movie takes extraordinary unexpected twists and turns that will leave you gasping, but steers away from being a dark dramatic movie, lifted frequently by clever wit and laugh out loud humor.
JR Bourne’s tremendous embodiment of this pathetic yet lovable man is enhanced by the transformation of all of the actors it the film who effortlessly deliver the impeccable and prolific dialogue by first time screenwriter Michael Kamsky. The directorial debut by Tommy Hines is also worthy of accolades. In the sub zero Alaskan temperatures, Hines manages to extract tremendous emotion and performances by everyone. This combination proves to be successful as the audience leaves feeling satisfied as a voyeur to the very personal exchanges and emotions demonstrated as each character struggles with the frigid climate to bury or reconcile the past.
Running time — 96 minutes
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