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3 Backyards -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- A slice-of-life story cut too thin, "3 Backyards" is a minimalist glimpse into the lives of a burg of uninteresting people. It's likely exhibition neighborhood will be video-on-demand where cineastes will take a chance on recognizable cast names - Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Embeth Davidtz.

Set in a bucolic New York coastal enclave, "3 Backyards' intercuts between the residents of three dwellings. Unfortunately, filmmaker Eric Mendelsohn has created such a humdrum assortment of folks that it's hard to get interested in any of their comings-and-goings. In one abode, the businessman husband (Koteas) and his hausfrau wife (Kathryn Erbe) don't communicate, in essence, they don't talk to each other - the marriage has gotten that bad. Unfortunately, they are so thinly drawn that we never care whether they get back together or not.

The second sub-story centers on a woman (Edie Falco) who dabbles away her days as a backyard artist. She also babbles, which she is more skilled at than painting. She's obsessed with the emotionally stricken mini-celebrity (Embeth Davidtz) who has sublet around the bend.

Then, there's this little girl (Rachel Resheff) who innocently wanders into some potentially deadly backyard depravity. There's also a hideous, poofed-up white, designer -dog that ambles throughout the story, which must be some attempt at highbrow symbolism.

The only character we care about is an African woman whose job quest intersects the wanderings of businessman John. In fact, she's the bright light of the whole opus, thanks to actress Danai Gurira's gleaming aura.

Smartly observed and precisely visualized, "3 Backyards" is nonetheless a bore: We never care for any of the characters and their lives of "quiet desperation."

Under Mendelsohn's capable hand, the technical contributions are astute and amplify the story. Special praise to composer Michael Nicholas for the drained sounds; a cacophony of agitated woodwinds continuously underscores the characters' frazzled mindsets.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Production: Caruso-Mendelsohn Prods. In association with Fred Berner Films
Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Danai Gurira
Director/Screenwriter: Eric Mendelsohn
Producers: Rocco Caruso, Amy Durning
Executive producer: Fred Berner
Director of photography: Kasper Andersen
Production designer: Markus Kirschner
Music: Michael Nicholas
Editors: Morgan Faust, Jeffrey K. Miller
Costume designer: Suzanne McCabe
No rating, 85 minutes