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A search for a missing dog provides the most drama in Matt Amato‘s debut feature depicting the life-changing effects of a burgeoning romance on two people seemingly resigned to their loveless lives. If you’re looking for plot, you’ll barely find it in The Makings of You. But the film starring Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Men) and Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks) has a seductive beauty that’s enhanced by its fully lived-in performances and handsomely atmospheric lensing of St. Louis’ historic neighborhoods.
The central characters are Wallis (Ferguson), an amiable slacker who runs a consignment shop, inherited from his late parents, that traffics in the likes of vintage typewriters and old LPs; and Judy (Lee) — a single mom living with her two teenage boys and embittered mother Margaret (Grace Zabriskie) — who ekes out a living as a school cafeteria worker.
After Judy wanders into Wallis’ shop one day, the two forge a connection. And as they tentatively pursue their relationship they seem to blossom, with Wallis gradually breaking out of his well-constructed cocoon and aspiring to do more with his life — he even buys himself a suit, albeit a used one — and Judy shaking off the malaise that she had worn like a winter overcoat.
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There’s some conflict stemming from Judy’s sons (Grant Leuchter, Michael Varble) having to accept a new man in their mother’s life — “Don’t hurt her,” one warns Wallis — and Margaret disparaging him as not being good enough for her daughter. Other than that, nothing really happens over the course of what occasionally feels like a very long two hours.
And yet the film succeeds in its goal of evocatively capturing the feelings of joy, tempered by a world-weary wariness, that accompany the blossoming of a unexpected romance between people who have been around the block more than once. Much of the credit goes to the lead performers: Ferguson displays an unkempt charm and tenderness that makes his man-boy character quietly appealing, and Lee, still looking luminously gorgeous at age 48, manages to convey, with a simple smiling gaze, the liberating effect of throwing off the shackles of loneliness. Zabriskie, too, has never been better, transforming what could have been a stock character into a figure of surprising complexity.
Another major character is the city of St. Louis itself, photographed by Chris Benson in a picturesque way that makes even its seedier, more run-down environs alluring. Amato, a veteran helmer of music videos, invests the proceedings with a subtle, dreamlike quality that gives the film an undeniable, but never stultifying, artsy feel. If you’re not already in love when you see the film, you’ll desperately want to be afterwards.
Production: Moment Media, The Masses
Cast: Jay R. Ferguson, Sheryl Lee, Grace Zabriskie, Henry Goldkamp, Grant Leuchtner, Michael Varble
Director/screenwriter: Matt Amato
Producers: Jack Richardson, Matt Amato, Grace Zabriskie, Sheryl Lee
Executive producers: Ron Creevey, John Hoekman
Director of photography: Chris Benson
Production designer: Tim Stephens
Editors: Matt Amato, Alex Pelly
Costume designers: Lanie Faith, Marie Overton, Sara O’Donnell
Casting: Chadwick Struck, Joni Tackette
Not rated, 123 minutes
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