Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2018. In the Family, Vanishing Angle. Screenplay by Patrick Wang. Cinematography by Frank Barrera. Produced by Daryl Freimark, Matt Miller, Patrick Wang. Music by Aaron Jordan, Melissa Li, Chip Taylor. Production Design by Bekka Lindstrom. Costume Design by Michael Bevins. Film Editing by Eldwaldo Baptiste. Independent Spirit Awards 2018.
Patrick Wang’s study of a community grappling with issues of art and commerce is one that manages to cover grand themes in deceptively simple ways, enchanting the viewer with as many naturalistic characterizations as it does brushstrokes of eccentric genius. In a picturesque, upstate New York town, an esoteric, avant-garde artistic duo called “May Ray” are threatening to suck up available tax money that is earmarked for arts spending. Instead of May Ray’s trendy new art installation and its impractical educational activities, the money could go to “The Bread Factory”, a local arts centre where films are shown, community theatre is produced, a place that is the beating heart of this lovely hamlet. Tyne Daly is extraordinary as the woman running the place with her partner Elisabeth Henry-Macari, doing her best to maintain her directing duties while keeping on top of this fight for financial survival. Funny and fresh, the film is made on a low budget but never feels cheap, populated by a series of characters who make a deep impression regardless of their screen time: a young high school student who has begun to work at the local newspaper, whose editor is digging up information on May Ray and the corporate sharks they have representing them before the city council, a young boy who works as a projector at the centre until he is frightened into thinking he’s a liability, an aging actor with a blustering voice who delivers one of the funniest single lines in the film aimed at a hilarious caricature of a young movie star and, most memorable, Janeane Garofalo as a film director with a fast mouth and a fiery temper. The complicated workings of this town and its citizens’ many connections makes for a fascinating modern-day Middlemarch that eventually gives way to the flattening out of their expectations in the second part.