Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Texas outlaw saga Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has us thinking back on some of our favorite on-the-lam movies.
River of Grass (1994)
Kelly Reichardt is without a doubt one of the most important independent filmmakers working right now. Her latest film, Night Moves, will compete in the prestigious Venice Film Festival, and her last three efforts—2006’s Old Joy, 2008’s Wendy And Lucy, and 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff—are among the most acclaimed American films of the current decade. Although Reichardt wasn’t very high on most people’s radar until Old Joy’s triumphant debut at Sundance, she had been making film and video work for more than a decade before that.
Reichardt’s debut feature, River Of Grass, is undeniably different from her later trilogy. Not least among its unique properties is the fact that it’s a comedy. “Dark” would be the usual adjective to describe the mean streak in its humor, but River Of Grass is better called a “damp comedy,” unfolding as it does in and along the sweat-beaded pucker of the Everglades. It’s the story of a bored, lower-middle-class housewife (Lisa Bowman) who fancies herself meant for better things. She meets a man (indie producer/director Larry Fessenden) in a bar and then, after a mishap with a stolen gun, abandons her hubby and kids to hit the road with him.
Much of the humor comes from the utter pathetic ineptitude of these two characters, whose idiocy is matched only by their unluckiness. (The recent lovers-on-the-lam indie Sun Don’t Shine was clearly inspired by River, except that director Amy Seimetz opted to play the scenario straight.) However, the future Reichardt style is very much in evidence here, even if it’s in a somewhat inchoate form. The unassuming beauty of the Florida landscape, often seen in tracking shots, functions as a kind of impassive foil to Bowman and Fessenden, thick and sludgy and indifferent. If Florida is a swampland that Americans keep holding tenuously at bay, then River Of Grass implies that we probably have to let the gators have a few dummies along the way, just to keep things balanced.
Availability: A DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix’s disc delivery service.