Metro Weekly


Reel Affirmations 2016



Friday, Oct. 14
7 p.m.
GALA’s Tivoli Theatre

A beautifully shot Rust Belt love story, Deb Shoval’s AWOL delivers on a notoriously hard-to-keep promise: the tender coming-of-age story wrapped in a gritty reality. Here, the young heart is Army recruit Joey, a quietly self-possessed but emotionally vulnerable young woman, falling hard for the older Rayna, a canny beauty who makes her home in a rusting double-wide. But as the pressures and complications of life in a dying American town mount, they must find their own truths in love and life.

If some of this feels familiar, Shoval keeps it fresh and original by telling it wholly from the perspective of the two women — and doing so quietly and convincingly with understatement. She offers a polished rhythm, pacing the drama at an engaging clip, knowing when to linger on a moment and how to build a subtle sense of foreboding. Shoval offers a particularly keen eye for the beautifully unforgiving northeastern landscape and the unmistakable signs and signals of soul-crushing poverty, all of which come and go like silent commentary.

As Rayna, Breeda Wool offers a convincing blend of swagger and survivor, her hard shell and inconsistencies intriguing and authentic — even if she is just too healthy and gorgeous to convince. But the real star here is the magnetic Lola Kirke as Joey. An extraordinary presence — a woman who is not girly and yet is in no way an imitation of a man — she offers a near-miraculous third way of being. With her quietly intelligent, searching eyes, Kirke makes Joey an open book — but only to us. If there are a few awkward edits here and a tiny bit of Hollywood posing there, overall this is a small but quietly powerful and touching drama.

A promising attempt at the cozy-Indie-comedy genre, Kev Cahill’s short, More Than God (starstarstar), is wide of the mark only for trying too hard. The good news is that it’s easy to see how this scenario of complicated relationships (including a lesbian love affair) that touch the modern Irish clergy and their kin would make for an engaging full-length feature. The characters are interesting and their dynamics offer comic subtleties, even in their nine minutes of screen time. But whether full-length or snippet-sized, this kind of film requires an understated hand, a witty edit, and a strong sense of rhythm. Cahill aims for it, but just doesn’t quite have the control. There is over-acting from some, awkward edits that interrupt the pace, and scenes that overstay their welcome. It’s enough to take the comedy off the boil. But it’s also so close, it begs for another chance. 

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