The Discoverers: Hamptons Film Festival Review
Hamptons International Film Festival, World Cinema Narrative
Griffin Dunne, Madeleine Martin, Devon Graye, Stuart Margolin, David Rasche, Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd, Cara Buono, Becky Ann Baker, Scott Adsit, John C. McGinley
Justin Schwarz's debut follows a family retracing the path of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
THE HAMPTONS, NEW YORK — The past is never history in Justin Schwarz's The Discoverers, a family-reconciliation tale in which three generations of estranged relatives are forced to stick together on a historical reenactment of the Lewis and Clark expedition. More warm-hearted than funny, Schwarz's feature debut benefits from an intelligent script and sympathetic lead performance by Griffin Dunne, though commercial prospects are modest.
Dunne plays Lewis Birch, a history prof whose career is foundering thanks to his inability to complete a mammoth book about York, a slave who belonged to William Clark on the 19th-century expedition to the Pacific coast. His revisionist fixation on that trek traces to his youth, when Lewis's stern father Stanley (Stuart Margolin) forced the family to annually recreate it: Years later, Lewis's parents still don period garb and join fellow history buffs for a musket-and-axe trek westward.
When Lewis's mother dies, leaving Stanley almost catatonic, Lewis is forced to engage with the father he stopped talking to many years ago. Interrupting a trip to an academic conference where he had hoped both to revive his career and reconnect with his own teenaged kids (who, post-divorce, live with their mom), Lewis reluctantly takes both his kids and his dad into the woods.
The community of reenactment enthusiasts they meet is shown in a predictably goofy light -- David Rasche's Cyrus gets flustered whenever his new companions use 20th century language or, Heaven forfend, hide a cell phone inside their buckskin trousers -- but they aren't all nut-jobs. Cara Buono's Nell, a helpful blonde who'd be a love interest if Lewis were less hapless, is quietly accommodating when one of the kids turns out to be vegan or another gets busted with a stash of weed.
Lewis's children (played by Madeleine Martin and Devon Graye) are less well drawn than they might have been, serving more often than not as a source of mildly sullen complaint; but Martin's Zoe has a bright spot when an emergency requires her and her father to take a secret detour into the modern world. The academic-conference subplot, in which Lewis keeps sneaking off for phone calls attempting to salvage his appearance, sometimes feels like a contrived difficulty; as the story progresses, though, the subject of Lewis's life's work is nicely woven into the drama, lending some intrigue to a father/son grudge that would otherwise be generic.
Production Company: Quadratic Media
Cast: Griffin Dunne, Madeleine Martin, Devon Graye, Stuart Margolin, David Rasche, Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd, Cara Buono, Becky Ann Baker, Scott Adsit, John C. McGinley
Director-Screenwriter: Justin Schwarz
Producers: Justin Schwarz, Laura Kleger, Louise Lovegrove
Executive producer: Bob Gosse
Director of photography: Chris Blauvelt
Production designer: Kelly McGehee
Music: Aaron Mirman
Costume designer: Kim Wilcox
Editor: Geraud Brisson
No rating, 104 minutes