Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Man, Mark, you really hold on to shit - Will Oldham

When Old Joy came out in 2006 I wasn't a fan because I didn't really relate to it. Its a film about growing up and I wasn't there yet. I was 25 with hardly any responsibilities outside of rent and a few bills, no kids, no girlfriend or wife and most of my friends were pretty much living the same lifestyle. Fast forward 6+ years later and suddenly everyone’s married, growing beards, having/planning kids, buying homes and they aren't as available to hang out like before. Now my life revolves around prescription meds for my transplanted kidney, finding new gray hairs on my face, going to the gym, complaining out loud about bad Huffington post articles, living with my girlfriend, making serious plans for the future & trying to maintain a lot of my close friendships through phone as everyone is moving away.
Living in New York City can makes things even worse sometimes. Everything from buying a pack of gum to taking the subway feels like some grind or a hustle. It’s difficult to relax, it’s expensive so you don't always have the money to get away from the craziness for the weekend (partially what Old Joy is about) and without fail I start thinking about work early Sunday evening when I should still be enjoying my weekend. These are all the thoughts that Kelly Reichardt's quietly brilliant film bring out of me.
Old Joy is a ½ buddy, ½ road movie about two friends that reunite for a weekend of camping. Its one of the many somewhat recent post-Gus Van Sant looks at Portland Oregon and how cool & progressive it apparently is (Wendy & Lucy, Cold Weather, Portlandia, etc). This film is SUPER indie as its not only somewhat influenced by Van Sant, but its produced by Todd Haynes, scored by Yo La Tengo and co-stars folk singer Will Oldham.

“Mark” (Daniel London) is a stable home owning, married man with a baby on the way. “Kurt” (Oldham) is is still trying to hold on to that bohemian, limited responsibility lifestyle of the 90’s he once had. He doesn’t have a job or any solid source of income, close to living in his van and is essentially coasting through life. It’s clear Mark & Kurt haven’t seen each other in a while and there’s some tension that’s been built up between them over the years (Mark is somewhat uncomfortable & agitated around Kurt). For Mark, this road trip is a mini-vacation to get away from his responsibilities & everyday life (once he becomes a father he won’t be able to get away as much). For Kurt, this getaway is a chance to reunite with an old friend and bury some of the unspoken tension between them. Throughout the film Kurt picks up on the tension & discomfort and in one scene he breaks down and expresses his sadness about how they’re friendship isn’t what it used to be. By the end of the film the hatchet is buried but Reichardt still leaves things pretty ambiguous (especially on Kurt's end). In the final moments we see Kurt kind of aimlessly wandering the streets of Portland with no real destination.

Although there is tension this is a peaceful story full nature, silence & meditation. Old Joy has an anti-Bush tone that I appreciate very much (towards the beginning of the film Mark is listening to what appears to be a political debate on Air America radio which goes on for about 10 minutes). There’s also quite a few scenes I can relate too like when Kurt is told his favorite record store has closed and is now a juice bar (in the last six years my favorite record & video stores have closed in both my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts and in New York City where I currently live).
Obviously nature plays a big part in Old Joy. Yo La Tengo's score, which is perfect, isn't the only important soundtrack to this film. There's plenty of music-less moments where wind, the chirping of birds & the crackling of branches play just as big a role as Yo La Tengo's music. Old Joy has a soothing quality that makes you wanna stay in and watch it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or it will inspire you to wanna go out for a hike.

The end of Old Joy always makes me a little sad. Kurt is a bit more complex than he appears to be. Sure he comes off laid back & carefree but there's a sadness to him too. Not only is he on the verge of being homeless but he's a pretty lonely guy. Kurt represents that friend you don't exactly feel sorry for but you do wish he'd get his shit together. And its not as if you're better than him just because you may have a bit more stability in life either. You almost hate that you worry about him so much because on one hand he's your friend but on the other hand there's only so much you can do because you have to take care of yourself (and in Mark's case he has a baby on the way). I do still love the fact that Reichardt makes Kurt somewhat independent. Although he's clearly broke at no point does Kurt ask Mark for money. Reichardt reminds us about the importance of friendship and how easy it is to slowly lose contact with friends. Sometimes a simple lack of communication can build up and lead to unnecessary tension.
Wendy & Lucy
Kelly Reichardt’s 2008 film; Wendy & Lucy was what ultimately got me to revisit Old Joy. I appreciated the fact that it was a genuine look at broke young people today. The final moments of Old Joy, where we see Kurt lost & coasting through life, kinda blends in to Wendy & Lucy. Will Oldham plays a character in Old Joy who's on the verge of homelessness and at the beginning of Wendy & Lucy he plays a character who is homeless. The characters are different but there's still that connection being that they're both played by the same actor under the same filmmaker. We commonly associate older, middle-age adults as the face of the poor & struggling. But due to the economic issues in this country over the years, people my age and younger are going broke long before they have families to feed or mortgages to pay. College students are either graduating with crappy job prospects or staying in school to get their masters or doctorates for hopes of getting a better job yet find themselves in the hole with student loans. Baby Boomers & Generation X have plenty of defining films while Generation Y have very little. Wendy & Lucy is one of the few great looks at the problems younger generations face. Yes it’s true that the faces of Kelly Reichardt’s work are white, hippie & bohemian but that shouldn’t discourage anyone who doesn’t fit that description (like myself) to appreciate her work. She’s one of the few filmmakers to bridge the Gap between Generation Y & Generation X (which Kurt & Mark are clearly a part of)

Old Joy deserves applause simply for the fact that it could have EASILY gone in a million different directions - Two friends go out in to the woods to rekindle their friendship. This could have easily turned in to a thriller where they get lost in the wilderness and have to survive in the harsh surroundings thus putting their friendship to the test. Or there could have been some deep dark life changing secret Kurt is keeping from Mark. Instead, Reichardt took the anti climactic route. This film serves as an alternative to stuff like Gerry, 127 Days, The Edge or Into The Wild.


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