After devastating wildfires swept Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties last month, the Nov. 8-12 Napa Valley Film Festival posted a banner notice on the fest’s homepage that answered a question on many people’s minds: “NVFF17 will go on as scheduled.” Fest co-founders/directors Marc and Brenda Lhormer followed up with a statement indicating their “intention is to put on the most memorable and meaningful film festival to date,” along with plans to donate a percentage of festival pass sales revenue to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund.
Among the films screening on NVFF’s opening night, Brandon Dickerson’s third feature gives voice to a generational faction fed up with the digital revolution and more comfortable with an analog environment, tracking a married couple’s attempts to reanimate their marriage on a “glamorous camping” trip. Fitfully amusing and occasionally grating, Amanda & Jack Go Glamping succeeds best when it focuses on its protagonists’ unique shared experiences rather than the overly familiar conflicts of partners in crisis.
As personal crises go, Jack Spencer’s (David Arquette) situation is hardly unique. Married with two kids, the once-renowned author is struggling to cope after his last two books failed to fulfill the promise of his widely acclaimed debut novel written 15 years earlier. Dwindling income has increased pressure on his marriage to Amanda (Amy Acker), his caring and sympathetic wife, who nonetheless has had her fill of Jack’s shiftlessness. Proposing a weekend getaway to a Texas retreat known for its fancy glamping offerings, she’s hoping to get their relationship back on track, if she can only convince Jack to cooperate long enough to be constructive.
Once he gets a look at the stylishly rustic camping options however, Jack’s negativity resurfaces, and then violently erupts when honeymooning young couple Jamie (Nicole Elliott) and Abe (Daniel Ross Owens) lay claim to the over-decorated trailer that serves as VIP lodgings, forcing the older couple to downsize to a nearby yurt. As more of the millennials’ annoying friends begin arriving and hunky resort owner Nate (Adan Canto) turns up to start turning the women’s heads, Jack flees into the nearby woods in search of solitude. There he encounters young survivalist Ben (Chris Carpenter), who’s determined to reacquaint Jack with the finer points of mental and physical self-preservation.
Dickerson, who also scripted, figures out how to overlay Jack’s mild midlife crisis arc with the camping comedy fairly smoothly, but the problem is that neither of these plot strands is particularly fresh or interesting. Like any couple’s history, though, Amanda and Jack’s has its individual specificities, accreted over years of mutual experience. Their enduring affinity for well-worn John Hughes movie dialogue, elicited in genial pop-quiz competitions, identifies them as ‘80s kids who still resist completely growing up, as does the movie’s soundtrack, brimming with selections from indie bands like The Cure, New Order, The Smiths and Tears for Fears.
The comedic situations rely primarily on a predictably awkward series of setups intended to make Jack look inept and out of touch, which amuse up to a point, but gradually become less revealing and more repetitive. (There are only so many jokes about the differences between social-media obsessed hipsters and digital-outcast oldsters that can land successfully, it seems.) Amanda’s brief flirtation with property owner Nate offers scant insight either, consisting mostly of overplayed attraction and coy simpering.
Arquette cooperatively accedes to Dickerson’s representation of Jack as the architect of marital discord and suffers a variety of indignities as he absorbs a series of familiar midlife lessons on his journey of personal renewal. Despite the focus on Jack, Acker’s Amanda emerges as the relationship’s linchpin. Without her reserve of patience and good humor, founded on a genuine admiration of Jack’s talents, Amanda would have left him long ago. Acker recognizes that Amanda can’t rediscover herself until she’s able to realign her dynamic with Jack, delivering a quietly reassuring performance that gets a bit lost in all the comedic noise surrounding the character.
Given the film’s premise, Dickerson lavishes a good deal of attention on the camping resort’s amenities, which, in addition to the well-appointed lodgings, swathed in luxurious fabrics, include a converted barn with a rustic bar for an entertainment center and a herd of alpacas and miniature donkeys, which end up playing a pivotal role among Jack’s various humiliations.
Production companies: Spiral Films
Distributors: Orion Pictures, Gravitas Ventures
Cast: David Arquette, Amy Acker, Adan Canto, June Squibb, Nicole Elliott, Daniel Ross Owens, Chris Carpenter
Director-writer: Brandon Dickerson
Producers: Brandon Dickerson, Cathleen Sutherland, Susan Kirr
Executive producer: Erik Lokkesmoe
Director of photography: Abraham Martinez
Production designers: Kirsten Dickerson, Derrick K. Jensen
Editor: May Kuckro
Music: BC Smith