EmptySundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- Most of the movies competing at Sundance featured well-known actors or at least followed in a venerable cinematic tradition. But "Anywhere, USA" is a genuinely odd duck, a quirky regional comedy that doesn't quite resemble anything else you've seen.
That isn't necessarily a good thing, but the Sundance jury did see fit to give the film a special award for originality. It's hard to argue with that categorization, though it's equally hard to imagine the film finding an audience out in the real world, unless it becomes a "Napoleon Dynamite"-type cult favorite among kids, which is a remote possibility but not entirely inconceivable.
Director and co-writer Chusy Haney-Jardine was born in Venezuela but eventually settled in Asheville, N.C., where he shot his feature debut with an entirely local cast, many of whom had not acted before. It's rare to see an example of purely regional filmmaking, and the film certainly benefits from the unusual, vividly rendered locale.
"Anywhere" consists of three separate stories, only tangentially related thematically, that explore different segments of Asheville society. The first and longest is set in a trailer-trash universe, focusing on a troubled marriage and an imagined terrorist threat from an Arab man whom the wife meets online. The second segment takes place among more middle-class characters, including a young girl who is starting to lose her belief in fairy tales. In the final section, a wealthier man living in a Southern mansion becomes obsessed with the idea that he doesn't know any black people and sets out to remedy the situation, to the consternation of his more conservative family.
If the aim was comedy, the result is very much a hit-and-miss affair, with far more misses than hits. If the film was hoping for social commentary, it's too broad to qualify as a penetrating critique of American racism and xenophobia.
Haney-Jardine and co-writer Jennifer MacDonald (who also happens to be his wife) zero in on irrationality in the heartland. When Tammy (Mary Griffin) receives a bag of pistachio nuts from her Arab paramour (Rafat Abu-Goush), her husband (Mike Ellis) and best pal (Brian Fox) become convinced that he is plotting a terrorist attack and decide on a "pre-emptive strike" to save America. The film's indictment of America's foreign policy is far from subtle but does have a certain bite.
The quality of the acting is wildly uneven. Griffin and the actresses who play her two pals, Molly Surrett and Sheilah Ray Hipps, give flavorful performances. The filmmakers' daughter, Perla Haney-Jardine, holds her own against the adult actors, and Ralph Brierley and Dianne Chapman capture complacency and upper-middle-class befuddlement with a measure of skill. Other performers display their lack of experience.
Haney-Jardine and cinematographer Patrick Rousseau bring Asheville to life, and the eclectic musical score, which encompasses Puccini and Southern bluegrass, is striking. Running a little more than two hours, the film wears out its welcome long before the end credits roll, but give it a few points for wackiness and sheer insane glee.
Found Films, Studio on Hudson
Director-editor: Chusy Haney-Jardine
Screenwriters: Chusy Haney-Jardine, Jennifer MacDonald
Producer: Jennifer MacDonald
Executive producers: Joe Morley, Heather Winters
Director of photography: Patrick Rousseau
Music: Arizona, Juan Benavides, Holiday Childress, Bryan Rhuede, Chris Rosser, Jason Smith
Co-producer: Andy O'Neil
Tammy: Mary Griffin
Gene: Mike Ellis
Ricky: Brian Fox
Molly: Molly Surrett
Sheilah: Sheilah Ray Hipps
Ali: Rafat Abu-Goush
Jeremiah: Jeremiah Brennan
Pearl: Perla Haney-Jardine
Ralph: Ralph Brierley
Dianne: Dianne Chapman
Ellis: Ellis Robinson
Pat: Susie Greene
Running time -- 123 minutes
No MPAA rating