Pilgrim Song: Film Review
Martha Stephens' indie drama concerns a laid-off music teacher seeking spiritual rejuvenation in a long mountain hike.
The main action of Martha Stephens’ Pilgrim Song involves its emotionally disaffected central character taking a very, very long walk in the woods. But while this journey proves edifying for him, it provides a tedious one for viewers of this static film that conveys spiritual ennui all too effectively.
At the story’s beginning, James (Timothy Morton) has just been fired from his job as a music teacher. So he impulsively decides to hike Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace Trail, much to the consternation of his girlfriend (Karrie Crouse), whom he grudgingly admits that he’ll miss, along with his comfortable bed and cold beer.
Along the way, he meets various eccentric characters, including a park ranger who dispenses advice about the local female population — “Local girls are made for love, they’re very fertile,” he explains — as well as an example of one, who seduces him during a game of Spin the Bottle after a hoedown.
But James’ principal encounter is with single dad Lyman (Bryan Marshall) and his young son Bo (Harrison Cole), who tend to him after he twists his ankle. The hard-drinking Lyman is still smarting over his break-up with his ex-wife, his feelings rising to the surface when he encounters her arm-in-arm with her new boyfriend.
That’s pretty much it in terms of plot, with the writer/director more interested in conveying James’ passivity about his own life even as he becomes emotionally entangled in those of his new companions.
Straining for a quiet poeticism and, to its credit, occasionally achieving it thanks to the beautifully photographed scenic environs, Pilgrim Song fails to involve us in its central character’s introspection. Although Morton infuses his performance with a laid-back soulfulness, he’s unable to overcome the fact that he’s playing a self-absorbed jerk. Contrast that with the wonderfully engaging turn by Crouse as the long-suffering girlfriend which, apparently unlike James, only makes us want to see more of her.
Opens May 10 (IFP)
Production: Paper Moon Films
Cast: Timothy Morton, Karrie Crouse, Michael Abbott, Jr., Bryan Marshall, Harrison Cole
Director: Martha Stephens
Screenwriters: Martha Stephens, Karrie Crouse
Producers: Nick Case, Martha Stephens, Adam Tate, Ryan Watt
Executive producers: Daryl Pittman, Stu Pollard
Director of photography: Alexander Sablow
Editor: Nathan Whiteside
Production designer: Elizabeth McKee
Composers: Andrew Iafrate, Jonathan Wood
Not rated, 115 min.