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Anywhere USA (Cinevolve Studios, NR)

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The purpose of all this seems to be satire but it’s so ham-fisted that the director just comes off as a smarty pants who thinks he’s better than everyone else.

 

 

Life is full of mysteries. One that I’d really love to solve is what the 2008 Sundance jury* was thinking when they awarded a special prize (“The Spirit of Independence”) to Chusey Haney-Jardine’s debut film, Anywhere USA. I’d be more likely to award it the Spirit of Pretense but, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, differences of opinion are what make film criticism, as well as horse racing, so interesting.

Anywhere USA consists of three sections, each of which is introduced with a title card: Penance, Loss, and Innocence. The film uses other title cards from time to time as well as cringe-worthy narration (“Inside. That’s where you look when you’re sick of looking outside. …When I look inside I see everything. I see joy. I see pain. I see a pistachio and a mustache….”) which, like the movie itself, is far too convinced of its own importance. Anywhere USA is populated by an oddball cast of characters (played by local, non-professional actors) including a woman (Mary Griffin) who beats her husband (Mike Ellis) with a tennis racket and searches for love on the internet, a little person (Brian Fox) who is both a galloping racist and a flaming idiot (and foul-mouthed to boot), a sensitive orphan (Perla Haney-Jardine, the director’s daughter, who is by far the best thing in this film) who loses her faith in the tooth fairy, and a rich white guy (Ralph Brierley) who suddenly decides that he should get out and meet some black people.

The purpose of all this seems to be satire but it’s so ham-fisted that the director just comes off as a smarty pants who thinks he’s better than everyone else, including his neighbors (the film was shot in Haney-Jardine’s current home of Asheville, North Carolina). A few scenes display some insight but they’re buried under the film’s thick layer of hipster pretense. This makes watching it a sour experience. Southern icons (trailers, NASCAR, indoor furniture outdoors, religious bumper stickers) are quoted only to make fun of them and to top it off the film seems to go on forever (the DVD version is 108 min.; the cut shown at Sundance was over two hours, which would have had me contemplating poking my eyes out). The ideas that make up each segment are not without their possibilities and had the three stories been produced as separate short films of more reasonable length they might have succeeded better, but we’ll never know.

Extras on the DVD include a director’s commentary, a making-of featurette, a clip from the Jacksonville Film Festival, and a photo gallery. | Sarah Boslaugh

*I don’t know who exactly voted on this particular prize but the Dramatic Competition Grand Jury that year consisted of Marcia Gay Harden, Diego Luna, Sandra Oh, Mary Harron and Quentin Tarantino. Come to think of it, this seems like the type of film Tarantino would enjoy (and he provides an adulatory blurb for the DVD cover), so maybe the mystery is not so mysterious after all.

 

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