MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Green

Every now and again, a film or filmmaker pops onto my radar because a publicist drops me a line and says “Hey, would you check this out? I think you might like it.” Such was the case with Sophia Takal’s Green, which I likely already would have seen if I’d gone to SXSW, where it premiered; since I didn’t make it down to Austin this year, though, I missed catching Green until now. And if you’ve missed it too, you’ll want to check it out if it comes your way, because while it has its flaws, Green is a surprisingly good feature debut from this young director.

Green is a portrait of jealousy and insecurity, woven through a story about Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Sebastian (the director’s fiance, Lawrence Michael Levin), a pair of Brooklynite, more-intellectual-than-thou hipsters who move to a remote home in the rural South for an indeterminate length of time. They’re in the South so Sebastian can practice and blog about sustainable farming (nice gig, dude) and Genevieve can pursue some writing.

But the long, hot, Southern summer days are boring, and Sebastian is boringly self-involved and into his project, and Genevieve is bored out of her skull because she is from Brooklyn and she is used to being surrounded by a lot of smart, self-involved people all the time, which has allowed her to ignore that Sebastian is kind of an asshole. Now that they’re alone, though, and stuck in the South, he’s getting on her last bloody nerve. And that’s just the first day.

Enter Robin (Takal), a sweet, self-effacing local girl who just wants to be friends, y’all, like bestest friends! Right from the day she meets you. This, of course, is going to scare the crap out of your average New Yorker, who requires two forms of legal ID, personal references from at least three people who are not related to you by blood or marriage, and numerous interviews to test out your relative acceptability factor before even starting to maybe, sorta, consider you a potential “friend.”

Takal herself plays Robin, and she’s a fine actress, but as a born-and-bred Oklahoma girl, I felt her mock Southern dialect was gratingly just off much of the time. Her ear for writing dialogue with a Southern character feels more like how a Northern person thinks a person in the South would talk than how they actually do. It’s a small quibble; I doubt that I could write dialogue that would feel completely believable if the story was set in, say, Maine. On the other hand, her ear for the conversations that take place at those kind of hipster intellectual parties to which her opening pays homage is so spot on that I have to imagine her mentally “recording” snippets of overheard dialogue at many late night Brooklyn parties to hone it.

So Robin and Genevieve start palling around all the time, in spite of them having practically nothing intellectually in common. They have fun together, they get along, it kills the hours. And then at some point, Sebastian starts hanging out with them more and the twosome becomes a threesome, and then things start to get messed up as Genevieve flips her shit and starts to unexpectedly catastrophize, imagining Sebastian and Robin doing all sorts of things whilst nekked.

This shift happens rather abruptly from a story and character development standpoint, and my biggest criticism of the film is that this is a rare occasion when I’d have rather seen another 20 minutes of running time to flesh that transition out more. I do have to say a word about the sound, particularly in both the party that opens the film and the nature scenes; sound is one area where a lot of low-budget indies skimp, and it shows. Here, the sound is so fused with the visuals and so right for the emotional tenor of each scene that it augments and underscores rather than jars. The combination of lush visuals and pristine sound in the nature scenes immerses you in them such that you almost feel as if you’re lying in a forest, looking up at a canopy of green, hearing nothing but the music of bird chirps echoing through the trees. The occasionally creepy score works well, for the most part, too, though it occasionally feels a bit overbearing when it’s trying to create a sense of tension that could have been better evoked by fleshing out that transitory emotional and tonal shift into “green” evoking jealously as opposed to the green of nature, or Sebastian’s “green” sustainable farming that’s brought them to this place.

The cinematography by Nandan Rao, particularly the nature scenes, is frequently of gorgeous, painterly beauty, and if every now and then some shots seem a bit too perfectly stylized and composed (you know what I mean), that I can overlook. I’d rather a director who has a decisive and focused vision for exactly how she wants her movie to look and feel than one who seems ambivalent to aesthetics, anyhow. Overall, Takal shows great promise with her debut effort, guiding her film with a mostly steady hand. It will be interesting to see what kind of movies she makes as she matures and gains confidence.

From a story and character standpoint, the film’s best moments are when Takal has her camera glued in close on intimate, revealing moments; she loses her confidence a bit when she pulls back, and she needs to listen to her instincts — which overall are really quite good — and trust herself. She’s made a solid, compelling first feature with an original voice here; along with Mark Jackson’s Without, Green is one of my two favorite films by new directors so far this year. Catch it if you get a chance.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon