Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Small Beautiful Moving Parts [2011]

MPAA (Unrated)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb Listing -
Roger Ebert's Review -

The first thing to know about the small, independent film Small Beautiful Moving Parts (written and directed by Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson) playing at Chicago's Facets Multimedia Theater between June 1-7, 2012 is that it is actually a feature-length film born of a remarkably creative web-tv series called Sparks.  The film and series follow the life of Sarah Sparks (played in both the web-series and in the film by Anna Margaret Hollyman) a late-twenty something turning thirty something woman living in New York City with her boyfriend Leon (played again in both the web-series and in the film by Andre Holland).

What makes Sarah's character fresh/interesting is that she describes herself as having a gift of "relating well to technology" even as she admits (and the viewer soon sees) that she probably relates better to technology than to people.  Thus she makes for an interesting character as many/most of us would know a person or two who would seem similarly gifted/challenged.  Perhaps what makes her even more interesting is that Sarah is a young woman rather than a more stereotyped "male geek."  So more can perhaps be done with her character than with a male one.

The purpose of the feature-length film after the release at least six episodes in the web-series appeared to present a bit of Sarah's back-story.  How did she become the person that she's become?  Well, a good place to start would be with her family.

Finding herself pregnant, she finds herself characteristically quite ambivalent about it.  When her pregnancy test comes out positive, she seems more interested in the font of the digital display declaring her "pregnant" than in the fact that indeed she's expecting ("That's a remarkably nice font for a throwaway" she muses).  Later at the doctor's, she appears more interested in the technology behind the ultrasound producing the image of her daughter developing in her womb than in (her) daughter herself.  (Sarah's boyfriend appears far more happy/excited about the development).  Perhaps to try to sort herself out while she still can, Sarah by then 6 months pregnant, decides fly back to California and reconnect with sister and (divorced) parents.   Much (in terms of an indie style character study) ensues ...

Sarah's sister Angie (played by Sarah Rafferty) along with her husband already have a small daughter and are all into organics and various other novel/trendy parenting theories even as Angie throws a baby-shower for Sarah.

Dad, Henry (played by Richard Hoag), who appears to be a retired engineer living out Santa Barbara-way, and who clearly first turned Sarah on to technology believes himself to be in an internet/Skype relationship with a woman more-or-less his age in Brazil (to her he's "Henrique..." ;-).  Sarah helps fix his Skype connection but sort-of rolls her eyes as he tries to impress her with the Portuguese that he's learned over the past ... well has it been only weeks or has it been months? It's not clear ... but dad does seem to be happy as does the Brazilian woman who we soon see on his on his screen.

The most problematic appears to have been Ma', named Margorie (played by Mary Beth Peil), who had apparently left dad and her daughters to ... one guesses ... "to find herself"/"follow her bliss."  Where is she now?  Apparently "off the grid" somewhere in Arizona.  Sarah's, who's gone this far, armed with a GPS decides to seek her out ... only to find that her GPS will fail her and right outside of Vegas, where now disoriented she has to crash at Leon's sister Towie's (played by Susan Kelechi Watson) for the night.  Afterwards, Sarah has to face Arizona's hinterlands armed only with a map and her own voice to occasionally ask for directions.

How did the at long last meeting with ma' turn out?  Well, I've probably written more than enough...  So, I'd just say that this is a movie of our time.  We still prefer movies that end happily, but happy endings that strain credibility are no longer allowed...

Anyway, I found the movie to be refreshing.  Yes, that Sarah and Leon are not married is something that has to irritate a Catholic film-critic like myself, especially one like me, who is a priest.  Yet at the same time I do appreciate and applaud the freshness of Sarah's character and of the series that has been built around her.  And even though "mom" wasn't exactly represented well in this picture, as a representative of a hopefully still "Good Mother Church" I do hope that Sarah and Leon do eventually get married.  In the meantime, I do sincerely applaud the originality of this project and wish its creators the best in their endeavors.

Why?  Because I continue to believe in the opening words of the Second Vatican Council's closing document, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) that: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of [people]. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for [everyone]. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with [humanity] and its history by the deepest of bonds."   So much about this little film/series is "about our times."  If we don't acknowledge films/series like this, seek to talk about them, seek to dialogue with them, then where are we and where are we heading?

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